A Saturday spent at Pittodrie on a dull December Aberdeen afternoon feels like a lifetime ago for Heart of Midlothian. Or, at the very least, last season. Steven Naismith's men had contrived to chuck away a 1-0 half-time lead and control against a struggling Dons side to lose 2-1.

Later that week, as the club held a lengthy AGM, the club's chief executive Andrew McKinlay spoke of it being a long drive back from the Granite City. He was not only joined in that thought by the big travelling support but also Lawrence Shankland, who has been named the SFWA Player of the Year.

"It was probably the angriest I've ever been after a game," he admitted.

READ MORE: The key stats that show why Shankland is Scotland's most lethal finisher

Why are we bringing up such a low point of the season? Because, with the direction of Hearts' season, it is important to reflect. Shankland had been asked about a key moment or game where he felt it clicked for the team.

"The season has been that long I can't think when a game was," was the immediate response before he offered up the loss at Pittodrie as "the most frustrating one".

"Because in the first half, we felt we had played well and things were going the way we wanted them to go but we somehow allowed the game to get away from us and we got beat," he explained.

"I think the positives of the first half gave us a bit of, 'If we get that right over 90 minutes we will give ourselves a chance of winning games'."

At the time, however, the positives were far from forthcoming. Hearts sat fifth, behind St Mirren and Hibs, although with a game in hand that could take them third [they are currently 20 and 22 points ahead respectively]. And at full-time, as Shankland entered the dressing room, his emotions saw him move into a state of mind where he couldn't remember what he said. All he knows is that he went off on one. 

"I like to think I don't flip my lid too much but that was probably a bit of an exception," he said. "When I got on the bus I thought 'I don't even know what I just said in there'. I don't think I had many pals left either!"

It has not been brought back up since so Shankland is still unaware of what he said but knew that whatever it was it had to be said, whether he was captain or not.

"I think I would have done it no matter what," he noted. "I was just in that mood. I managed to get a goal up there as well, it took me 10 years! I eventually got one. It was just one of those games where it was frustrating but it was probably the turning point there. After that, the boys did really well.

"It was probably the right time, in terms of inside the changing room, for something to be said. It falls on my role to take it upon myself. To be fair, I don't like having a go at people, I like to encourage them but that day I just felt something had to change at that point.

"I was on the phone to my dad after it and I told him. After the unbeaten run, he said, 'It clearly worked and you made the right decision'.

"It's down to hard work from the boys. It is not me that's turned it. There was obviously something that dropped between the squad and that it had to change."


What followed was a week of noise before a huge result. Hearts held their AGM when fans expressed concerns at the direction of the team. Few went to Celtic Park with any confidence yet the team strolled away with three points, beginning a 12-game unbeaten run and the rest is history.

"I think the unrest and that probably just came from noise outside but we believed in the changing room," Shankland said. "There were difficult spells and difficult games but us as a group could see ourselves progressing in the way we were trying to make things happen. Eventually, we got into a really good rhythm of winning games and got where we wanted to be.

"The biggest thing is we didn't find ourselves miles away from our objective and where we wanted to be points-wise, albeit we weren't getting results but teams around about us weren't getting away.

"I think everyone was trying to work toward it changing but that doesn't happen overnight and you've just got to believe in what you are working on and keep believing in it that it will become successful which it did.

"And they were new faces in there, Kenny [Vargas] coming in, people you are not used to playing with and that takes time to gel, Barrie [McKay] picked up his injuries and stuff. There were quite a lot of different changes in the front areas at times and even with the team selection, it changed quite a lot. These things take time. Once we got into a rhythm everyone in the squad knew their job, no matter who came in, and were doing it to a high standard."

He added: "When you go to Parkhead there's not really any harder places to go and get a win. We probably found a lot of the boys found a lot of belief."