HEARTS forward Ryan Stevenson insists bouncing straight back from the Championship is only the first hurdle in his bid to help the team return to the top of the Scottish football ladder.
The Tynecastle outfit again delayed their inevitable relegation on Wednesday with a draw at home to Aberdeen but St Mirren only need a point to confirm the Tynecastle side’s plunge through the trap-door.
Stevenson knows that will be a sad moment for supporters who are used to seeing their team challenge for European qualification. Since the turn of the Millennium, administration-hit Hearts have finished in at least third place on six occasions, more than any other team outside the Old Firm.
And the 29-year-old admits the club is desperate to once again become a force to be feared in the top flight.
He said: “It’s going to be hard when that day comes that we’re down. It will be a sad day.
“The players can look at it as going into the Championship and trying to get back up but, for the fans, I feel for them because they have turned out for every single home game and backed us away in massive numbers.
“For them, it’s heartbreaking that such a big and well-supported club is in the state it’s in, but one thing for sure is that the boys who are going to be here, the boys that are going to come in, the manager Gary Locke and [owner-in-waiting] Ann Budge, everyone is wanting to get the club back – not just to the Premiership but back to the top where they belong.”
The writing was on the wall for Hearts when they were handed a 15-point penalty and two separate signing bans last summer.
Those debilitating conditions have ensured Locke’s first full season in the dugout has been an extremely testing one.
But Stevenson insists their manager has the full support of the players.
Locke’s own future remains in doubt amid suggestions that Budge could replace the former club captain.
Stevenson added: “It’s his dream job, for him to be thrown in as young as he is to become the manager of Hearts under normal circumstances would be a hard thing.
“But under these circumstances, not being able to sign any players and just everything revolving around the club, it’s a lot for him and it’s been a horrible season for him, I would imagine.
“He’s taken a bit of criticism over the season and, from the players’ point of view, it’s been uncalled for because every single one of the players is behind him.”
Speaking to Central FM, Stevenson added: “He’s a young manager starting out in the game and I think he’s got a massive future in management.
“Hopefully, once we come out of administration, he’ll get the finances behind him that he can bring in his own players and build his own team.”