Hearts’ Gary Locke not worried by derby pressure

Gary Locke must cope with the pressure of maintaining a record as he prepares to experience his first Edinburgh derby as permanent Hearts manager.
Hearts manager Gary Locke is more interested in finishing seventh than simply above Hibs. Picture: SNSHearts manager Gary Locke is more interested in finishing seventh than simply above Hibs. Picture: SNS
Hearts manager Gary Locke is more interested in finishing seventh than simply above Hibs. Picture: SNS

He is as well-versed in this fixture as anyone and was interim manager when the teams fought out a 0-0 draw in March, best remembered for the Leigh Griffiths free kick for Hibernian that was ruled out despite having crossed the line.

Locke is well aware, for example, that it is 12 years since Hearts last failed to defeat their rivals from across the city in a season.

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“Nobody needs to tell me what the fans are thinking because I speak to them every day,” said the manager, whose own family are maroon diehards. “It would be great for the club to finish above Hibs but it isn’t the target for me. The target is to finish the best of the rest in the bottom six.”

Locke was not for getting sidetracked by the question of local bragging rights, or whether finishing above Hibernian in the league could salvage something from a trying season. Hearts are a point clear of their rivals, who have a game in hand, but Locke stressed that he is focused on finishing as high as is possible, and a victory over their fiercest rivals would help to that end.

“We’re not thinking about the points gap [between Hearts and Hibs]. It’s just another big game,” he said. “I said to the players when I got the job we had to try to finish seventh if we could. By winning last weekend we have given ourselves a slight chance.

“We want to be as high up the league table as we can and put behind us what has been a pretty disappointing season.”

Not one of the four clashes between the sides so far this season has been a classic. Even though plenty of goals were scored in last season’s Scottish Cup final and a 5-1 victory remains a cheering memory for the Tynecastle faithful, the match itself will not be remembered for its quality.

Locke is aware of the Edinburgh derby’s reputation for being a football-free zone in recent times but, understandably, is not in a position to promise entertainment. Results are what matters, particularly given Hearts’ financial problems and the additional cash that would come with finishing seventh.

“I think both sets of players go out to try and put a show on,” he said. “But the games this season have not been great spectacles.

“That’s the derby,” he added. “They’re the same all over the world. You don’t see many good ones in terms of teams getting the ball down and playing.

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“Maybe that’s because players close each other down that little bit more quickly. For me it’s all about trying to win the game.

“If we do it by playing great football then great. If we do it by winning a scrappy game 1-0 then so be it. But the main thing in any derby anywhere around the world is you win it.”

As the anniversary of the win over Hibs in last season’s Scottish Cup final approaches, Locke revealed he was still in touch with cup winning manager Paulo Sergio. Since being made permanent manager, Locke has continued to seek advice from Sergio, among others.

“I keep in touch with Paulo regularly,” he said. “He’s just left Cluj so he’s enjoying the sunshine back in Portugal as we speak. I have a great relationship with every manager I have worked under and I speak to them all. It’s great to be able to do that. You’re learning all the time. And to be able to speak to Paulo, John McGlynn, Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown comes in handy. They all have great experience and I have a lot to learn.”

Locke also congratulated Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths on being named the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year last weekend.

“He’s been fantastic and he thoroughly deserved his award last week, along with Michael Higdon, who has had a great season as well,” he said. “I was pleased for the two of them. “But Leigh has been terrific.”

Locke was aware that club owner Vladimir Romanov was said to have suffered a stroke on a trip to Moscow. However, he had not yet been able to verify the reports. “Edgaras might hear what’s going on before me,” he said, referring to Lithuanian assistant, Edgaras Jankauskas. “We might hear a bit more today. If it is true hopefully he is OK and makes a speedy recovery.”

Meanwhile, former Hearts manager Craig Levein was this week asked to reflect on the Romanov era and insisted that the fans are the ones to judge whether it has been a success.

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Levein might be considered to have dodged a bullet where the often reckless Romanov was concerned. After four years in the Hearts manager’s post, he vacated it for an ill-fated stint at Leicester City only months before the new owner appeared on the scene. Romanov did so with the club £25m in debt, and a sale of Tynecastle considered the only means to cover debts. Levein, then, isn’t prepared simply to rubbish his reign.

“Is [the mess Hearts are in] a consequence of Scottish football or because they have shot themselves in both feet?” said Levein. “I made my mind up I was leaving before Romanov arrived. Who am I to criticise because the club has been successful and had two Scottish Cup wins?

“You’d have to ask the supporters if they would swap the two cup wins and Champions League year to be back in a position they occupied previously. At that time, when I left, the clubs had all got themselves [into problems]. Before I got to Hearts, salaries had just rocketed. Between 1995 and 2000 salaries went through the roof – banks were happy to lend loads of money and it was a case of chasing the Old Firm who were signing multi-million pound players.”