THE Hearts team that won the Scottish Cup final in 2012 with a 5-1 victory over Hibernian have gone down in the history of their club as living legends. Now Ryan Stevenson believes the current Tynecastle side can attain the same status if they pull off a very different and arguably tougher task – staying in the Premiership.
After a good run of results in some early league matches, Hearts’ progress stalled in the weeks before the international break. They still have seven points to make up before they get to zero, having been penalised 15 points for going into administration, and they will not find it easy to resume winning ways when they visit Fir Park this afternoon. Even so, Stevenson thinks that Gary Locke’s young squad can be inspired rather than overawed by their survival mission. “Everyone knows that if we do manage to stay up this team will be classed as legends and heroes,” said the midfielder, who returned to Hearts from a brief stay at Ipswich a few months after that cup final. “And to be classed as legends at 21 and below is not something that happens to many football players. So everyone grasps the enormity of the situation.
“I don’t recognise myself in them. They are far better than me when I was that age. But what a chance they have got. I keep emphasising that to them.
“It took me a long time to get to a club the size of Hearts. I had to go the long way round to get here. Some of the boys like Jason Holt and Jamie Walker have been out on loan at Raith Rovers so they’ve seen the other side of the game. There’s a lot of worse places you could be than Hearts. Often you don’t realise how good you have it until you leave. I went to Ipswich, which was a great club, but there’s something about Hearts and I had to come back here.
“But for these boys to be playing every week in front of a rocking, full Tynecastle – and in front of an amazing away support following us across the country – is a really unique opportunity for them. The big thing for the club is to stay in the Premiership so it stays as big a club as it should be. And if these players do it, they will be legends by 21.”
Hearts’ last match, a 2-0 home defeat by St Mirren, was a particularly hard result to take, as the Paisley club were then the closest to them in the table. Now Kilmarnock are the closest, and, having grown up as an Ayr United supporter, Stevenson is relishing the chase.
“There were always going to be blips along the way. We just need to keep chipping away. We are ten behind Kilmarnock and we are playing them the week after Saturday. We need to keep chipping away at the gap. We were massively disappointed to lose to St Mirren, but we need to bounce back at Motherwell, although I think it’s going to be up there with Parkhead in terms of hard places to go this season. It’s going to be a tough task but it’s one we will embrace.
“We are five points into the 15 already. There’s been disappointing results and we could be better off, but we’ve cut into that figure – and we hope to cut even further in the weeks ahead.”
Having just returned from injury, Stevenson could have done without the international break, but he is sure it came at a good time for the squad as a whole. “I would have liked to have kept playing and getting more games, but the break was probably the best thing for the team after the St Mirren game. We were disappointed not just with the result but the performance, so it was good to go away and regroup and make sure we are ready for Saturday.
“It’s the best dressing room of my time at Hearts. They aren’t down or anything. They are all good boys and they understand that losing is part of football. But they are playing under more difficult circumstances than usual and the onus is on the older lads like me, Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Danny Wilson to lead from the front.
“St Mirren’s probably the first performance of the season in which the team has let themselves down, but they don’t appear to have let it get on top of them. Everyone is buzzing. You know what young boys are like: it goes to the back of their minds.”