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Craig Levein <-auth None auth-> John Rowbotham
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Hartley unsure if he's winning battle of hearts and minds

FORMER Hibee Paul Hartley is trying his best to win over the Hearts fans - but admits he’s not sure if he has been successful.

The 27-year-old arrived at Tynecastle in the summer after impressing for St Johnstone in the First Division.

While he knew he faced a tough challenge in proving himself to his new followers as he adapted to life back in the SPL, he was well aware that he would perhaps not be afforded as much time as some other new recruits given his Easter Road background.

Although never at his best during his stay in Leith, he went on to become one of the First Division’s best players while in Perth.

Despite that, certain members of the Hearts support regarded Levein’s swoop for his services with a degree of dubiety, presumably because of the player’s spell with arch-rivals Hibs.

Admittedly, the former Raith and Millwall ace did take time to settle into his new surroundings but over the last couple of months has started to demonstrate why Levein was so keen to secure his services.

Hartley was one of a number of Jambos who performed with distinction in the unfortunate 2-1 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox last Saturday and looks set to continue in midfield when Motherwell visit the Capital tomorrow.

"It was a difficult start for me but I have been in the team over the last couple of months and am really enjoying myself," he said.

"The more you are in the team the more you enjoy the game and it’s been great recently.

"I’ve been playing in three or four different positions and hopefully I can stay in the side now. I knew that being a former Hibs player that it would take time to settle in and win over the support.

"I don’t know if I have done that yet but the fans have been fine since I came here. As long as they see you are giving 100 per cent and working as hard as possible, they don’t mind.

"I am really enjoying being back in the SPL. Maybe I was a bit young when I was at Hibs but, for whatever the reason, things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. But I have come a long way since last season, playing in the Edinburgh derby, experiencing Europe and sitting in third place in the SPL."

Hartley knew he was joining a high-profile club when he signed in the summer - but he is the first to admit he didn’t appreciate just how big an institution the Gorgie outfit is.

"I knew Hearts were a big club but I didn’t realise just how big," he said.

"The demands on the players in training as well as during the games are high and if you don’t produce the goods you will be out of the side.

"The support is also fantastic and I’ve never experienced anything like the UEFA Cup tie against Bordeaux before.

"Europe is where we want to play and we want more of that kind of thing next season.

"Hearts are the biggest club outwith the Old Firm and, for me, this is as good it comes."

He added: "I’d like to think there is more to come from me - and I’m sure every footballer will say they can improve.

"I think I have shown I can do well for the team and it’s now a case of keeping my place in the side. We have a difficult match tomorrow against Motherwell and then we’re away to Dundee and these are two vital games for us.

"It was the best we have played for a while against Rangers last weekend and although we have only won one game in the last six, the confidence is still high and we will be looking to get back on track tomorrow."

The Jambos disappointing spell has come on the back of an equally impressive run which saw them win six successive matches and Levein is confident it is only a matter of time before things turn again.

While they came out on top in some of those games without ever hitting top form, similarly they have lost games recently despite playing well, most notably against Dundee United and Dunfermline.

"The results have been poor recently but anyone who has been at the games will know we have been working extremely hard, doing our best to win games and creating the chances to win them.

"Things, though, just haven’t gone our way, but if we continue to do the things we have been doing then I have no worries. We’ll keep plugging away and the points will come.

"One of the things I concentrate on is the level of performances. Luck tends to even itself out over the course of the season but if we can maintain a decent standard of performance then, come the end of the season, we will finish where we deserve to be and if we continue to perform in the same manner, I believe that will be in third place.

"Motherwell are a tough team to defeat and Terry Butcher has done a terrific job there considering all the problems he had last season.

"We struggled to get a draw at Fir Park the last time we played them so we will have to be focused on the job in hand.

"They have had a similar run as us recently in that they did well early on but have lost a few matches and they will be wanting to change that."

Taken from the Scotsman

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