Michael Smith has called on embattled Hearts to leave themselves in prime position for an assault on third place by defeating in-form Livingston in their final match before the World Cup break.
The Jambos have had a gruelling campaign so far, with eight European games and a wretched run of injuries to key men taking a toll on their ability to perform at their best in the cinch Premiership.
Despite the obstacles they have faced, Robbie Neilson’s side have managed to keep themselves in the thick of the battle for a European place, and they could even go into the break in third place if they beat Livingston on Saturday.
Asked how he would summarise Hearts’ campaign so far, veteran full-back Smith said: “Decent enough. We’ve had a lot of injuries but we’ve done well enough, especially if we win against Livingston.
“We’ll be sitting right up there so with everything that’s gone on, I think we’ve done well enough providing we beat Livingston.
“After the break we’ll have pretty much everyone apart from Beni (Baningime) and Boycey (Liam Boyce) back fit so it will be a really good squad with people vying for places. I think we’ll be really strong after the break and we’ll be raring to go.”
Smith admits the past few months have been a test for everyone at Hearts and that the five-week break, which will incorporate a trip to Spain, will be of benefit to his team.
“It’s been tough but it’s been good,” he said. “It’s been a learning curve for most of us.
“I think everyone’s found it quite tough at times, especially with the long-distance travel and things like that. It’s tough on the body and it can be tough on the mind when things aren’t going so well.
“If you’re winning most weeks it can be really easy and you just look forward to the next game but when things aren’t going so well, things can go a bit wrong and even in training you can be a little bit off it, mentally. But I think the group here and the coaching staff are brilliant, and everyone’s attitude’s been spot-on.
“We’ve had some good results and some bad results but I think we’re starting to pick up form now. We’ve got one last game before the World Cup so hopefully we can end it on a high.
“After that, there’s five weeks between games. We’ve got a couple of weeks off, then we go to Spain for a training camp so it will be good because everyone needs a bit of a rest and then we’ll come back in and do a mini pre-season.”
Livingston beat Hearts earlier in the season and are currently two points above them in the table.
“It’s always tough against Livingston,” said Smith. “They’re always really up for the game, it’s never easy. But it’s at Tynecastle and it’s down to us to play football and win the game.”