THE ice cream is in the freezer. The champagne is being chilled. Thousands of Hibernian fans are planning a party on Sunday, when the Edinburgh derby could finally see Hearts relegated – but Gary Locke has every intention of frustrating them.
Caley Thistle have their part to play because, if they beat St Mirren tomorrow, Hearts cannot be relegated the following day no matter their result against Hibs. But, if the Paisley team get a draw or a win, Hearts have to match that in order to stay alive in the top flight for at least another few days.
Yet, whatever the task facing his side, whether they need one point or three or none, Locke appears intent on going for the win. That might only delay the inevitable, but the manager believes it would also be a small way of thanking a support that has stuck by the club despite the 15-point penalty and the signing ban imposed for going into administration.
“After the way the fans have backed us all season, it would be great to get a win for them,” Locke said yesterday. “We’ve not had a lot to smile about this season, there’s no doubt about that, but if we could get a victory over Hibs, it would keep our supporters happy and that’s the most important thing.
“There are not many fans who would do what ours have done, which is to dip into their pockets consistently to keep the club alive. That’s one thing that myself and everyone here appreciates.
“Our supporters are the reason that we’re all standing here today. So it has been a difficult season, we know, but I think the majority of our fans realise that the biggest battle is just still being here, alive and kicking.
“Of course we want to pay the fans back. Like any derby, a win here is great for the supporters – and Hibs will feel the same. It looks like it’s going to be a sell-out, so it’s a great game for players to be involved. And it’s a game where, if we do play well enough, we know we can win it.”
Last night there were just a handful of tickets left for the home support, while the Hibs end sold out some time ago. Locke is well aware why the away end will be full, but said he would not need to motivate his team with the thought of delaying Hibs fans’ celebrations.
“There’s no doubt that a lot of Hibs fans are coming along to gloat – it would be exactly the same if it was the other way about,” he continued. “But I don’t think there is much I need to say to get players motivated for a derby. If you need to motivate a player for this one, they shouldn’t be here.
“It’s not going to be Hibs that relegate Hearts. It’s over the course of the season – we’ve not won enough games to claw back the 15 points. I don’t look at the game and say, ‘Hibs can put us down’. It’s another derby and I know, if we win, it’ll keep our supporters happy.
“I’ll be listening to the St Mirren game but I can’t influence that. For me, it’s not a big deal. I’m only worried about what we do on Sunday. Hopefully, we can put in a good performance and get three points.
“What happens to St Mirren won’t affect my plans. I can only influence Hearts. What will be will be. This is a great game for everyone and we’re all looking forward to it.”
Besides keeping their own hopes alive, at least until they play Aberdeen at Tynecastle on Wednesday, Hearts can also inflict further damage on Hibs’ morale if they win on Sunday. Terry Butcher’s side are seven points clear of the play-off place, but they are on the worst run of form in the division at the moment. As things stand, there is at least a possibility that both Edinburgh teams will be booted out of the Premiership at the end of the season.
“It would be unthinkable,” Locke added. “But there’s no point in me worrying about what happens at Hibs. I can only worry about Hearts.”
While relegation has been a foregone conclusion for some time at Hearts, the picture off the pitch has steadily brightened as administrators BDO have cleared one hurdle after another in their bid to sell the club to the Foundation of Hearts. Another obstacle should be cleared today, when creditors of Ukio meet in Lithuania and are expected to ratify an agreement to sell the bank’s 29.9 per cent shareholding in Hearts to Bidco, the Foundation’s takeover vehicle headed by Ann Budge.
A creditors’ meeting for Ubig, Hearts’ largest shareholders, will then be held on 7 April. A positive outcome there would be followed by a 20-day appeal period, after which BDO would be able to proceed with completion of the Company Voluntary Arrangement that would at last take Hearts out of administration. “There are important meetings coming up,” Locke added. “We’re all looking for a positive outcome. Then we can get back to being the football club we all know and love. All being well, Ann Budge will come in and we can prosper again.”