Hearts quest to climb table only thing on Gary Locke’s mind
HEARTS’ hopes of finishing fourth in the SPL will take precedence over any sympathy for Dunfermline when the teams meet at East End Park tomorrow, according to first-team coach Gary Locke.
Conspiracy theorists have suggested that, with Hibernian still fighting to escape relegation at the expense of Dunfermline, Hearts would not be too upset if they were to fail to pick up all three points. But Locke, a lifelong Hearts supporter, insisted that neither a desire to add to Hibs’ worries nor his friendship with Dunfermline boss Jim Jefferies would divert his club from the aim of overtaking St Johnstone and Dundee United.
“We have got to be professional,” he said yesterday. “We’ve got our own agenda. We’re looking to try and catch St Johnstone and Dundee United, and if we beat Dunfermline that would go a long way to us catching them.
“It will be good to see the gaffer again. He’s just taken over there and he has got a big job on his hands. And I’m sure he’ll do his best to keep them in the league. But our aim is to simply go there and get a Hearts win and hopefully we can do that.
“It’s important we have a strong finish to the season and if we can do that everyone will be optimistic about how things go next season. It’s important we get a victory on Saturday and then focus on the cup.”
Hearts finally ensured they would finish in the top six last weekend by beating Aberdeen at home. They are sixth at present, four points behind both United and St Johnstone, and, with six games to go, fourth place remains a realistic possibility. Next weekend’s cup semi-final against Celtic may be the single biggest match on the club’s fixture list at the moment, but Locke dismissed speculation that some players would be rested this weekend to allow them to rest for the Hampden game.
“I wouldn’t pay attention to that,” he said. “We’ll put out as strong a team as we possibly can, as we do every week.
“It’s a big game for Dunfermline, but it’s a big game for us as well because we want to finish as high up the league as we can. The fans deserve that. So hopefully we will get the three points.
“We still have two chances left to qualify for Europe, but we’ve got to look at the league. If we can get closer to St Johnstone and Dundee United then we can try to finish above them. There are five games left after this one, so if we can get a result here then we can look to the cup game next week.”
Locke has been associated with Jefferies for almost all of his career, taking his playing days with Hearts, Kilmarnock and Bradford, and continuing as a coach during the manager’s second spell at the helm with Hearts. He is glad that the man he still calls “gaffer” is back in football, and is thankful to Jefferies for his advice to stay on at Hearts when the manager and assistant Billy Brown were removed from their posts at the start of the season. But that gratitude will not influence his attitude tomorrow.
“I think he’ll have a huge impact on Dunfermline. He’s been there, seen it and done it. He has worked at both ends of the table, he’s had success at the top, and one difficult season with Kilmarnock. He knows what’s required and one thing’s for sure, he’ll get the very best out of the players who are there. He’ll be looking for a reaction to them getting beaten last week at Tannadice.
“He played a huge part in me staying here, him and Billy. It was really disappointing at the time, but football is like that, it can kick you in the teeth at times. They’ve had their fair share of knocks, as did I during in the earlier part of my coaching career. But you have just got to try and be professional and carry on doing your job.
“Jim was very keen for me to stay – he said that. He was great, he knows what the club means to me and it means a lot to him as well. I’ve got a fantastic job here that I love coming into everyday and he said it was important that carried on.”
Striker Stephen Elliott is a slight doubt for tomorrow’s match, but the squad should otherwise be unchanged from the one which beat Aberdeen 3-0. Long-term absentee David Templeton is set to resume training next week after being out with hip and groin trouble, and could come into contention for the Celtic match.
The winger has been out of action since featuring against Motherwell on 18 February, and Locke said: “The story is he will probably start training on Monday and hopefully put himself in contention for the cup game.
“I think it is a possibility [making the Celtic game]. He is a fit lad, there is not a lot of fat about him and if he gets a good week’s training then I am sure he will come into contention.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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