HEARTS manager Gary Locke finally saw his side’s relegation confirmed at the third time of asking, but he is bracing himself for an even more important event today.
Hearts looked to have avoided the drop before the Scottish Premiership split with a 4-2 victory over Partick Thistle at Firhill, only for St Mirren’s late comeback against Motherwell to seal their fate.
Locke is now hoping for better luck from crucial talks in Lithuania which could decide the fate of the bid to take the club out of administration.
Creditors of the club’s two main shareholders, Ukio Bankas and UBIG, are due to decide whether to back the previously-agreed rescue deal that would confirm the transfer of shares to the Foundation of Hearts.
Success rests on allaying the concerns of one of the creditors, Siauliu Bankas, which has reservations over the role of multi-millionaire Edinburgh businesswoman Ann Budge, who proposes to put up the £2.5 million required for the Company Voluntary Agreement before gradually recouping the sum from supporters and ceding control.
Locke admitted that his main concern, after his players went down with their heads held high, is that Hearts still exist to fulfil their fixtures in the Scottish Championship.
“It was a big game for us, there’s no doubt about that,” Locke said. “But our biggest challenge of the whole season will be on Monday, and we all just hope and pray that everything goes well.
“The biggest decision for the football club for the whole season is going to come down to Monday and hopefully it’s a positive one.
“Once we get that the new owner will hopefully come in and make decisions and we can move forward again as a football club, but it all hinges on what happens in Lithuania on Monday.
“All season I’ve not really been able to influence anything off the park. We’ve done our bit today on the pitch but, as I’ve said all along, our biggest battle is going to be bringing the club out of administration and hopefully everything will go to plan on Monday.
“It will be a long day. I’m certainly not looking forward to it, but I’m a positive person and I hope we get a positive outcome, and if we do I’ll certainly be a happy man come Monday night.”
If the decision comes out in Hearts’ favour, Locke admits he would love to continue as manager and try to get his improving side straight back to the Premiership.
After an initial flurry, Hearts never really looked like overcoming their 15-point penalty, but their young and thin squad have shown themselves to be competitive.
Thistle took the lead in the opening stages through Kris Doolan but strikes by derby goalscorers Dale Carrick and Billy King either side of half-time put Hearts in front. Ryan Stevenson then hit a fine double to put the seal on a stunning victory despite a late consolation goal by Jordan McMillan.
“That’s another decision that’s out of my hands,” said Locke, whose contract expires at the end of the season.
“I think everybody knows what the football club means to me. The players that I’ve worked with this year I think have certainly improved, and the experienced players have handled themselves brilliantly.
“All right, earlier in the season we did make a few errors that we were sorely punished for, but I think you can see now that the young players aren’t making as many, and by doing that we’re giving ourselves a chance in games.
“I think if all the young lads knew then what they know now we would have given ourselves a really good chance, but unfortunately for us we’ve had to throw them in at the deep end and we’ve made our mistakes over the course of the season, myself included. But we’ve learned from them and I think every one of us is better for it.”
St Mirren’s win also sent Thistle into the relegation play-off spot and managed Alan Archibald admitted his players looked hamstrung by the consequences of defeat.
“After the first 20 minutes I think Hearts played with a freedom and we didn’t,” Archibald said. “We played with a fear. You can’t be fearful in the position that we are in.
“You have to stand up and show character and spirit and that’s what we’ll need to do to stay in this league.”