Malaury Martin knows everything that is at stake for Celtic when Brendan Rodgers and his players turn up at Tynecastle on Sunday but he says it does not concern him. Regardless of the prizes on offer, the Hearts midfielder is determined to see the visitors leave the capital disappointed.
Whether Celtic are headed to Gorgie hoping to tie up the Premiership title or are simply in search of points and another match undefeated as they try to extend their domestic run of invincibility, the Frenchman says that there is no reason why Hearts should indulge them.
“Honestly, it is not disrespectful for me to say I don’t care what Celtic are coming here for. We are in fifth position now and it is vital for us to take the three points,” said Martin.
“I think they always try to have a party when they come here. Of course, this time is more massive, but it is always a big game to play Celtic or Rangers, and we want to win the game and show we can make it difficult for them to come here. Why can’t we be the first team to beat them? Why not? That is what we work towards. Everyone knows, everyone can see, how good they are. But this is one game and for us this is like a cup final. We believe we can do something special.”
One of the nine newcomers in the January window, Martin is aware that the form of the team, as they have slipped from second at the time of Robbie Neilson’s departure to fifth place as they head into this weekend’s game, has frustrated fans. He is also acutely aware that the quality and the desire of the fresh faces have been questioned as a consequence.
Up and down in terms of displays and results, the lack of consistency has seen Hearts ousted from the Scottish Cup by neighbours Hibernian and resulted in them losing games to lower-placed opponents.
While some have used that as a stick to beat the Hearts players and their manager Ian Cathro, pictured right, Martin says people have to understand that the new arrivals need time to adjust to the way the game is played here and develop an understanding with each other. They also have to take into consideration the competitiveness of the Premiership, in which virtually every team still has something to play for.
Despite that, Celtic have romped the top flight and have navigated the domestic season unbeaten until now.
While the midfielder accepts that renders the unerring run of the weekend’s opponents impressive, he insists it should not be oppressive as Hearts aim to win over their disgruntled supporters and earn some kudos as the team to finally stop this season’s dominant force in their tracks.
“What can I say about Celtic? It is fantastic. Chapeau!” he adds as he doffs an imaginary hat to them. “But we are not there to admire them and say ‘oh, you are so good, haven’t you had a fantastic season’.
“We are there to beat them and the longer that run goes on, the more special it will be for one team to end that unbeaten run.
“But we are focused on winning the game, and not so much on Celtic.”
The 28-year-old former Monaco player accepts that while expectations are low given the contrasting form of both sides, the pressure on the home team is high as they try to edge back into contention for a Europa League qualifying place and move in front of St Johnstone, who provide the next test, on Wednesday.
“At home we need to show character and say ‘you will not come to our stadium and win and celebrate the championship here’. It is not easy but we will do everything we can,” said Martin.
“At this point, they know they will be champions. Maybe they will relax a little, maybe not. They will play their game, we will play ours.”
Dundee would need to defeat the Parkhead side’s nearest challengers, Aberdeen, tonight for the deed to already be done. If not then victory in Gorgie would set the seal on Celtic’s sixth title in a row.
“For us, it is really important, for the fans and also for our own confidence,” said the Frenchman. “It is a tough week and this could give us momentum to pick up more points. If we start on Sunday and have a bad game, then you go to St Johnstone and it will be tougher. If we start well on Sunday then, after that, it is more positive.”
There have been few Hearts performances since the turn of the year that could come close to troubling Brendan Rodgers’ men but there have been fleeting glimpses, some decent individual performances and periods in certain games that suggest there could be a complete display in there worthy of the belief that still emanates from the Tynecastle dressing room and management team.
Martin was a member of the side that lost 4-0 to the champions-elect in January but also featured in the impressive 4-1 victory over Rangers days later. He is hoping for something akin to the latter at the weekend.
“Rangers and Celtic are two different games, with different challenges – but it is a good example of the qualities we have, and we have to repeat that performance. It is not easy but, of course, that is our aim; to put them under pressure, close down the space.
“It is normal that the fans want good results and they saw a good game against Rangers here. That is the performance we need to show more of. It is not always easy to be at that level – but that is our aim. We are ambitious.
“We want to show our character and show the fans how proud we are to defend our home, our castle, and not let Celtic come and take the trophy.”