IT CANNOT have escaped the attention of supporters of either club that Hearts could finally be relegated when they meet Hibernian at Tynecastle at the end of the month.
Several events need to happen over the next few weeks before the possibility materialises, but a look at the league table and the fixture list shows that, as things stand, a defeat for Gary Locke’s team on that Sunday afternoon could well decide their fate.
Needless to say, it is a possibility that Locke, as a lifelong Hearts supporter, does not want to have to contemplate. And he knows that the best way to avoid any such derby showdown on Sunday 30th is for Hearts to pick up points in their intervening games, beginning tomorrow at Kilmarnock.
As relegation comes ever closer, the Hearts manager has insisted in any case that his team should simply concentrate on their next game and do what they can to win it. They have lost their last two games, to Motherwell and Celtic, but in the four league fixtures before that they won two and drew two. Locke sees no reason why his team should fail to rediscover the good form they showed last month, even though he knows how hard it will be against
Kilmarnock, who won 4-0 at Tynecastle on Boxing Day and beat Hearts 2-0 at Rugby Park earlier in the season.
“I’ve tried to not look as far ahead as the Hibs game,” Locke said yesterday. “The only thing we can concentrate on is the next game and we have to make sure we try to win on Saturday. It will be difficult – as you can see from the two games we have played so far.
“They have beaten us twice, and convincingly at Tynecastle, so we know how difficult it is going to be and we will certainly need to do better than we did last week. If we can achieve that then hopefully we get the right result.
“I wish I could put my finger on what went wrong last week [when Motherwell beat Hearts 4-1]. I think just too many players didn’t turn up on the day. Motherwell is a difficult place to go, against a good side, and as much as they were very good, we were poor.
“I don’t think you can say this season that there have been many times that we have given up the ghost: we’ve put everything into most of the games. Last week was a game that you get every now and again – the team just didn’t play well on the day. I won’t make excuses – we weren’t good enough and that’s the reason we got beat.
“This week we have to do
better. Kilmarnock are a similar side to Motherwell – a strong spine to their side, good experience and they can cause you problems if you don’t do your own job. We have worked as hard as possible this week – albeit there have been a few away with Scotland – and it is a game we need to try and win. You’re not going to win a game if only two or three players are on their game.”
It would be unrealistic to expect Hearts to gather too many points against the teams at the top of the table – even though they have beaten second-placed Aberdeen home and away. But their real failure this season has come in their games against the teams such as Kilmarnock who are in the bottom six.
“I wish I could put my finger on why we haven’t picked up points against the teams around us,” Locke continued. “We’ve competed well in most games, but there seems to be a bit of pressure about those games and we have not done as well. It might come from the team being so young.
“But in the last couple of months the performances have certainly improved and got better. I’m hoping that last week was a blip, one game in the last seven or eight where we didn’t play well. And the good thing about football is you have
another game which comes quickly and hopefully we get a better performance and better result.
“You have to keep believing. It’s a wonderful football club to work for and I enjoy coming in every day. We have had a few kicks in the teeth this season, but you have to look to the future of the club, and that looks like it will be bright and positive.”
Jamie Walker and David Smith have resumed jogging, but are still two or three weeks away from coming back from injury. Jason Holt still has a niggling foot injury and looks likely to be on the bench again tomorrow.