Even after tacit permission from head coach Robbie Neilson to do so, it is evident that the notion of throwing his weight behind Hibernian this weekend is not one which sits comfortably with Kevin McHattie.
Hearts’ inevitable coronation as champions of Scotland’s second tier will take place before the weekend is out if they can defeat Falkirk on Saturday and Hibs fail to beat Rangers 24 hours later.
The generally pragmatic Neilson, perhaps surprisingly, has stated his preference to win the title against Queen of the South at Tynecastle in nine days’ time, rather than doing so without kicking a ball on Sunday.
Despite Neilson effectively confirming he would like to see Hibs claim a pivotal triumph against Rangers, one suspects that will be a foreign concept to many within the Gorgie ranks.
“Cheering on Hibs? I’m not sure about that,” McHattie said with a smile. “I’m not sure whether I’ll even watch it. I’ll maybe have a wee look for it on the telly. Whatever happens, happens.
“We just want to win against Falkirk on Saturday. It has been a magnificent season but, on paper, it’s not over yet. We have to win on Saturday and the gaffer has already highlighted what a huge game that it for us. It’s a hard place to go but, hopefully, we can get the three points.”
McHattie was addressing the assembled media following Hearts’ 3-1 win against Raith Rovers in Tuesday evening, which proved to be as eventful a return to first-team action as he could have imagined.
The Scotland under-21 defender was making his first appearance since a wild challenge from Rangers’ Kenny Miller in November left him with ankle ligament damage.
He scored the opening goal after 27 minutes, much to the chagrin of the Raith defenders, who were desperately claiming for offside as he latched onto a James Keatings delivery completely unmarked, six yards out.
“The referee took a while to give it,” McHattie recalled of the surreal pause after he prodded the ball home. “I’ve done what any player should – put the ball in the back of the net and ask questions later. I wasn’t even sure whether it was a goal, I just saw all the boys running towards me to celebrate.”
McHattie was then the victim of a woefully mis-timed, albeit far from malicious, challenge by Christian Nade, with the former Hearts striker barrelling into the youngster at pace as the pair both slid for a loose ball. But even a hefty knock at the hands of the burly Frenchman could not temper his delight to be back in the fray as he paid tribute to the support of colleagues, friends and family during a testing four-month absence.
“It’s brilliant just to be back playing – and to cap my comeback with a goal and three points is absolutely massive,” continued the 21-year-old.
“It’s really tough when you have been out for all that time and you have to rely on the boys, friends, family and the girlfriend to pull you through it. Everyone has been brilliant.
“The physio team have been vital as well. Rob Marshall [head physiotherapist] has done a lot for me over the last couple of months and I can’t thank him enough. Watching from the sidelines, I thought I might be struggling to get a game when I did get back. But that is a credit to the boys, they have been doing so well.”
While Hearts’ ascension back to the Premiership is now a foregone conclusion, McHattie faces a challenging run-in as he attempts to make the left-back berth his own.
Adam Eckersley has been hugely impressive in McHattie’s absence this season and Robbie Neilson has a welcome selection headache when Hearts travel to Falkirk this weekend.
Despite the fierce competition for places, McHattie insists their rivalry is a friendly one and credits Eckersley with making him a more complete defender, despite missing several months through injury.
“The challenge of Adam has been great,” added McHattie. “He is an experienced lad and has come in and helped me a lot with my positioning and things like that. It’s been great to have that challenge in training. He is a fantastic guy and gets on with everyone.”