HEARTS will set a new points record for Scotland’s second tier if they can defeat Cowdenbeath at Central Park this afternoon in the penultimate fixture of their league-winning campaign.
A win in Fife would lift Hearts on to 90 points, one more than the total gained by Hibernian when they clinched the First Division in season 1998-99.
Hibs’ total of 89 remains the high-water mark for the division since three points for a win were introduced 20 seasons ago. The Easter Road side, under the management of Alex McLeish, won 28, drew five and lost three of their 36 games that season. Hearts have so far won 28, drawn three and lost three, with two games remaining.
It has been a remarkable performance by Robbie Neilson’s side, who can also point to the fact that two of their losses came after the league had been clinched.
They have scored 92 goals so far, including 17 in three matches against today’s opponents.
Dale Carrick scored two of those and the popular striker is back in the squad today after enduring a torrid time with injuries. Carrick began the season as first choice in the opening match against Rangers at Ibrox. He played his part in the 2-1 win but picked up a thigh strain and did not play again until 20 September when he came off the bench to score a double in the 5-1 win over Cowdenbeath at Tynecastle.
Further hamstring injuries followed and Carrick was loaned out to Raith Rovers in an attempt to give him more game time. However, cruel luck struck again when the forward suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury while playing in Raith’s Scottish Cup win over Rangers at Ibrox in February.
Neilson is considering the striker for a place on the bench this afternoon.
“Carrick is back in the squad for us, which is great,” the Hearts head coach said. “We’ll see if he gets game time. I don’t want to push him too hard at the moment. He played 40 minutes in the U20s game on Tuesday and did really well, but it’s important that we don’t rush him. He’s had a couple of problems this year with injuries and I don’t want to push him too hard.
“I’ll speak to him today and see how he feels, then make the decision tomorrow whether he’s on the bench or not.”
Neilson is considering a change of style to suit the conditions at Central Park where he expects a far tougher match than the games against the same opponents at Tynecastle.
“We definitely have to change our style of play,” he said. “It’s a really tight pitch, the surface isn’t that great at this time of the year and there’s not a lot of grass on it, it’s dry and it’s bobbly.
“You have to change the way you play. It’s difficult to play a passing game. You can still try and do it in certain areas but the way they play, they want you to try and pass it and then they want to press you.”
Cowdenbeath lie third bottom, one point ahead of Alloa and four ahead of Livingston. A win today would see them safe from automatic relegation.