"That is mental to have that stat at Hearts."

The stat Steven Naismith was referring to is the three away wins managed by Heart of Midlothian in the entirety of the 2022/23 league campaign.

At the start of the season, the Hearts head coach spoke to his players about the club's away record. It was pinpointed as an identifiable area for progression, for improvement. If the club want to begin to make strides and reach new levels they cannot afford to rely on their form at Tynecastle Park.

On Saturday, that away-day target reached a key milestone with the 2-1 win over St Mirren in Paisley. It was more gritty than pretty but the team got the job done to reach 10 victories on the road in the league this season. The first time a Hearts team have managed double-figure away wins in the top flight since 1991/92 when the team were managed by Joe Jordan and finished as runners-up.

Hearts Standard:

Taking a moment to rewind to September and the last time the team travelled to the SMiSA Stadium, going down 1-0, any suggestion then from a Hearts fan that the team would go on to finally break that top-flight away record hex that has hung over the club for more than 30 years would surely have led to an intervention.

Friends and family gathered around the living room the following morning with Ryan Strain's seventh-minute winner from the day previous playing on a loop in the background. The naive supporter having to be informed that such a view is far too optimistic a one for a Hearts fan to hold considering the three decades' worth of evidence and that maybe a crash course in realism is required before being allowed back at Tynecastle Park. 

Yet, here we are. St Johnstone, Ross County, Motherwell, Kilmarnock, Celtic, Hibs (of course), Livingston, Dundee, St Johnstone again and finally St Mirren. The teams Hearts have put to the sword on their travels. 

An impressive collection considering the teams with the best home form are as follows; Rangers, Celtic, Killie, Hearts, St Mirren, Hibs and Dundee.

And it is the away form that has truly elevated Naisith's side away from the rest. The team have picked up 11 more points than the next-best on the road (Motherwell) as well as 14 and 16 more points than St Mirren and Kilmarnock respectively. They have won more games away from home than both Aberdeen and Hibs have managed in the league all season.

Before examining how the feat has been achieved it is important to highlight the progress that has been made on that front. With three away games likely remaining Hearts have 14 more points on the road than across 19 games last season and six more than the team that skooshed third the campaign previous. 

"To beat that [three away wins] and get to a more respectable number, 10 is above average and it's a good place to be," Naismith said.

It is a far from straightforward achievement with Hearts becoming just the fourth non-Old Firm club to reach double figures of away wins in a top-flight campaign since the turn of the century. Hibs and Inverness CT have both done it once, while Aberdeen achieved it seven times, six of those in consecutive seasons under Derek McInnes. Of course, 32 years is far too long for a club of Hearts' stature to wait.

Looking further ahead, if Hearts were able to perform consistently on their travels it would be a huge step toward the aim of trying to bridge the gap to the Old Firm and moving away from teams lower down the table. That, of course, is further down the road and much easier said than done.

Hearts Standard:

In terms of how it has been achieved, it was interesting listening to Alex Cochrane's take on it.

"I can't really put my finger on what it was last year but I think this year we've gone about our business, home and away, the same way," he said.

"Just trying to keep to the same principles, home and away. Try not to make it difficult for ourselves and have that resilience and fight you saw in the second half when St Mirren stick on more players up top. You just have to deal with that and everyone dealt with it."

Speaking to Hearts Standard earlier in the season, the club's former assistant manager Billy Brown said that in the two spells under the management of Jim Jefferies, the team would look to play the same way home and away, albeit with allowances given when playing Celtic and Rangers. In the 1997/98 and 2010/11 seasons Hearts won nine away from Tynecastle Park.

Yes, Naismith wants his side to maintain the principles whether it is home or away but the "bigger thing", as he told Hearts Standard, is the understanding that "they are two different games".

The team has to be flexible.

"When we’re home, teams are happy for a point," he said. "We need to work out how to break them down. But also you have got to do that in a fashion that entertains the fans.

"That is harder to do than when you are away from home. Yes, we carry a big support but teams, when we’re away from home, feel they have a better opportunity to beat you so they are more adventurous, more aggressive in the way they play."

Additional reading...

That was the case at the weekend. St Mirren pressed Hearts aggressively, pushed up the pitch and condensed the space. The team's desire to control the game through possession wasn't applicable. The 42 per cent share of possession was the third-lowest the team has recorded on the road. Only the first trip to Ibrox and the 2-0 win at Celtic saw the team record a lesser share. 

It was a similar story at Rugby Park when Lawrence Shankland's cross deflected in off Will Dennis. James Cairney's analysis piece from that game was smattered with phrases that could have been transferred to the win over St Mirren. "It wasn’t pretty, but they got there in the end," was one. "This was the type of performance that they had not witnessed from their team in quite some time," another.

Then there were wins that required patience. On the opening day of the season, Hearts controlled proceedings at St Johnstone, dominating the ball, but had to wait until the 75th minute for the opener. It was similar at Ross County when substitutes Alex Lowry and Alan Forrest combined for the only goal of the game in the 69th minute.

The most confident performances outside of EH11 arrived at Fir Park and Celtic Park. The 2-1 win in the former was far more comfortable than the result suggested, while the victory at the league leaders was notable for both ending a long winless run away to Celtic but also how little trouble Hearts were put under having gone 2-0 ahead early on and deservedly so.

As for the second win at St Johnstone and the 1-0 success at Hibs, neither were great performances with few clear-cut chances. But it was a case of finding a way to win, namely through a striker in fantastic form. It was in those moments that you recognise the difference of having a lethal forward like Lawrence Shankland who can make something out of nothing. In previous campaigns, those games would have been draws.

Just like the 3-2 win over Dundee would likely would have been a defeat. The team displayed that never-say-die attitude to score twice in the final quarter of the game. 

Hearts Standard:

When consulting the stats via StatsBomb there is little surprise in terms of the insight they provide. Directness, pace towards goal and counter-attacking shots, as well as shots conceded, rise on the team's travels while defensive distance, possession and xG go down. It is largely what you expect when comparing home and away.

Perhaps it's those qualities that are unquantifiable, confidence, belief, resilience, which have improved.

"We weren't scared to go anywhere," Brown said of the Hearts sides of 1997/98 and 2010/11. "We had the players to cope with anything.  It is all about mentality and I think that Naisy will have that mentality. He wants to win all the time as well."

Both Naismith and Cochrane spoke on Saturday about the team being a softer touch outside of Gorgie in recent seasons. The win over St Mirren was used as an example of that ability to fight and scrap for a result, defending set pieces and crosses into the box.

The weekend's victory wasn't the only away win where the team demonstrated that quality but it was perhaps the most pertinent because of what it meant. Having broken down each of the 10 away victories they were achieved in a manner of varieties.

And perhaps that has been the key. Hearts are not one thing or another on the road. They have been chameleon-like, changing their colours to suit the environment, to suit what is required on any given day. Ten wins later and they have done what no other has in 32 years. Going forward the aim will be for that feat not to be viewed as such an achievement.