THERE are many seasons when struggling clubs can treat the team at the bottom as a source of easy points. Especially when that team’s relegation is confirmed, other sides can profit from its demoralisation.
Not now. Not with Hearts.
If there was a time when Gary Locke’s squad were all too easily brushed aside by their Premiership opponents, that time has long gone. Now, despite having officially been demoted early last month, they are the form team not only in the bottom six, but in the whole Premiership.
So the five teams above them, all of whom are still struggling to avoid the play-off position, cannot simply write off Hearts and concentrate on their other post-split matches. Indeed, as Locke’s team have already beaten Ross County and Hibernian since the split, the question should perhaps be if anyone else in the bottom six can take any points from Hearts.
Kilmarnock, who visit Tynecastle tomorrow, at least have higher hopes than most thanks to a good recent record at the Edinburgh ground. But Hearts are playing with no pressure, and also have an extra incentive to extend their impressive run of four wins and a draw from their last five games.
That incentive is to finish fewer than 15 points below their nearest rival, and thus to show that, without that points deduction, imposed for going into administration, they could have stayed in the division. As things stand they are on target to achieve their aim, being just 14 points behind the Ayrshire club.
“Finishing less than 15 points behind the second bottom team has to be our aim,” said midfielder Scott Robinson, whose performance in last week’s 2-1 win at Easter Road was among his best in a Hearts jersey. “We’re one point inside it now and, if we win on Sunday, it could be four.
“That would allow us to say, if we hadn’t had the deduction then we could have stayed in the league. We want to prove to the other teams that Hearts are good enough to be in this division.
“If it wasn’t for the deduction we could be as high as seventh. So that has got to be our aim. People have been saying Hearts are the team who will drag others into it but, really, we’re just looking to finish on as big a high as we can by winning every game between now and the end of the season. “I’m sure people looked at us on the fixture list earlier this season and thought: ‘that’s three points’.
“We were on a bad run. But now we have completely turned things around. And I’m sure teams now don’t look forward to coming to Tynecastle and playing us. We have nothing to lose. We can express ourselves and just play our normal game.”
Now 22, Robinson has a year of his current contract to run and has every intention of remaining with Hearts. He hopes that the current squad can stay together for next season’s campaign in the Championship but knows that, with the club still being in administration, time is tight for those whose contracts are about to expire.
“I’m under contract for next season, but it must be worrying times for one or two of the boys,” he added. “Hopefully, they can get their futures sorted as soon as possible so they know what is going on.
“I think the group we have is great. You can see everyone is flying right now. I think we would do fine in the Championship as it is, but it could be hard if we got an injury or two or a suspension.
“I’m sure if we could get a few fresh faces it would be good to help out the younger ones.
“I’d like to think we could challenge for the title. I think we are still good enough to be in this division.”
Asked who he expected to end up in the play-off place, Robinson said it was too close to call as things stand. But he admitted to hoping the Edinburgh derby would be guaranteed to be played next season, and he suggested that Hearts’ record against Hibs this season was something to be proud of.
“It’s really hard to say – I think the games this weekend are going to be massive. If we beat Kilmarnock and Hibs pick up a victory then it will be hard for Kilmarnock, but Hibs are on a bad run themselves so it’s really hard to say. Time will tell.
“For the state of the league it would be a lot better if Hibs were in the Championship. It would be a really good league to watch with the Edinburgh derbies as well as the games with Rangers.
“It’s massive to know we’d be on the same points as them without the deduction. Just beating them in four games out of five was really satisfying. To get the four wins against them was great.”