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13 of 025 Paul Hartley 55 L SPL A


Jan 2 2005

By Euan Mclean

AXED Paul Hartley feared his Hearts future was wrecked just two games into his Jambos career - after his ex-team mates at HIBS came back to haunt him in a day of derby misery.

But 18 months later the in-form playmaker has found his feet and reckons that his nightmare start proved the making of him.

Today Hartley will be a key man in the Jambos midfield when he returns to Easter Road for another frantic capital clash.

Yet he knows he might not even be here if it wasn't for the shock treatment dished out by then boss Craig Levein.

Levein dropped him for a month in the wake of a 1-0 derby defeat on his first visit to Leith in a Hearts jersey, back in August 2003.

Hartley said: 'It's ironic the game that probably kick-started my career here at Hearts was a defeat against Hibs.

'Coming into a new team then being dropped after my second appearance made me realise I had to work harder to improve.

'Looking back it was probably the kick up the backside I needed.

'For the next four or five games I wasn't even on the bench. It was a difficult time - I thought I might not get back in the team and this move would turn into a disaster.

'But it proved a tough lesson that it wasn't going to come easily, I wouldn't walk straight into this team. The boss certainly made that clear to me in no uncertain terms.

'I reacted the right way, I got my head down in the reserve games and worked really hard in training until the manager was convinced enough to give me another shot.

'I had always worked hard in training but since then I've taken it up another level and I always try to maintain the highest standards at all times.

'I might not have agreed with Craig leaving me out of the team at the time but it was probably the right decision in the long run - and I have Craig to thank for that.

'He gave me a new lease of life here and over the last 18 months the turnaround in my fortunes has been incredible.'

There's no doubt Hearts have enjoyed the best of Hartley's talents after a frustrating time in and out of the first team at Hibs was followed by a step down to the first division with St Johnstone.

The faith Levein (below) showed by handing him another crack at the top league has been repaid handsomely as the 28-year-old went on to become a driving force.

Currently Hearts' top goalscorer with a tally of 10 and recently recruited to the Scotland Future Squad, this season has seen Paul at the height of his powers, although the same can't be said of his time when it comes to the balance of power in Edinburgh.

The Jambos go into today's derby desperate to stop Hibs extending their nine-point advantage to 12 as the race to be named Scotland's third force approaches the halfway stage.

Hibs have been flying in the two months since Hearts drew first blood in the capital grudge match with a 2-1 win at Tynecastle.

Meanwhile, the Jambos have struggled to find the same consistency as the physical demands of their UEFA Cup commitments drained the squad's ability to fight on multiple fronts.

With Europe no longer an issue Hartley insists now is the time to start the big league push in earnest.

Patchy There could be few better morale boosters to inspire such a charge than to beat your city rivals on their own path.

But as far as Paul is concerned the important thing is simply not to lose. He said: 'We've really not started in the league yet, our form has been patchy.

'After midweek European games we've come back on the Sunday and not played that well but now is the time we kick start the league campaign.

'Sunday is a massive match, one we cannot afford to lose.

'Even with a game in hand clawing back a 12 point gap would be a hell of an ask - Hibs would be hard to catch if they maintain their recent form - but no one here has been talking about that. We are only speaking about us getting the gap back to six points.

'League form goes out of the window in derby games and while Hibs will be favourites we'll be looking to win.

'Hibs are probably the best footballing side in the SPL.

'Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor have been fantastic this season, scoring a lot of goals. But we have good defenders who can cope with that.

'It always adds extra spice as a former Hibs player to be coming to Easter Road in a Hearts shirt.

'Yet having seen both sides I know it's basically the same approach for both.

'The games are frantic and enjoyable to play in, especially if you win.

'The high it gives you can keep a team going for weeks.'

Taken from the Sunday Mail

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