NO MATTER the inevitability of it all, relegation is still going to hurt everyone associated with Hearts, but the last thing they want is old foes Hibs rubbing salt in the wounds.
The reality of the drop dawned a long time ago for the club as their slide into administration brought a 15-point deduction heading into this season, and they were hamstrung further by signing restrictions and their subsequent reliance on an inexperienced squad.
But while they are destined to spend next term in the Championship, they don’t want their city rivals to be the ones who finally send them on their way. With teams above them in action during their down time, it could all be done and dusted before the fourth derby of the season comes around, next Sunday, but if not, Hearts’ failure to beat Dundee United at Tynecastle on Friday night means they could still topple at the hands of the Easter Road side.
“It was a disappointing night,” said winger David Smith, who along with every one of his team-mates knows what horrors may await. “Getting beat wasn’t good but we worked hard and put in 100 per cent. It just wasn’t to be. As the gaffer said, it’s the story of our season. Nobody is pleased getting beat but you need to take the positives and take them into next Sunday’s game which is massive. It’s the derby and we need to bounce back.
“It’s a massive game and, potentially, we know Hibs could relegate us. But that’s an incentive for the boys. It’s not an ideal scenario but it’s a derby, it’s a different type of game and the boys will be ready for it. It’s the biggest game of the season for Hearts fans so they’re going to be 100 per cent behind us as they have been all season. Hopefully we get the result and it doesn’t happen then.”
A season which has had precious few highs among a quagmire of lows and uncertainty, the early-season bravado and hope that the Gorgie babes could evade automatic relegation evaporated long ago amid signing embargoes and injuries, the only consolation being the more positive steps towards a takeover and the stabilisation of the club.
But regardless of the circumstances, no one with Hearts leanings will relish departure from the top flight, said the 21-year-old, who had been enjoying a purple patch before he was injured. That forced him to the sidelines for the past six weeks where he has been frustrated by his inability to help his side prolong the fight against relegation, if not stave it off all together. But, having returned to action against Dundee United, he could still play his part.
“I’ve got a couple of pals through here who are Hibs fans and I’ve heard they’ve sold out their stand so they’ll be coming to have a party and hopefully we can ruin it. No matter how you get relegated it’s obviously going to be devastating but to do it against you’re biggest rivals would make it even worse.
“You can imagine what the Hibs fans would be like after the game. You can imagine what Edinburgh would be like too. Hibs fans would be going mental so it’ll be devastating if that happens. Hopefully it doesn’t.”
But while there will be no disguising the anguish if it does, Smith poured scorn on some Hibs fans’ suggestion that it would make up for the 5-1 defeat at the hands of Hearts two years ago.
“Let’s be serious… it’s not going to make up for the cup final. This was always going to be a hard season for us. Things haven’t gone our way in some games and it’s reached that stage where we could get relegated next week. Obviously it’s a young team and the boys have been pushed in all at once. But I don’t see why it’s not going to improve us. It’s given us a lot of experience and if we are in the Championship then we can take this experience into the Championship with us next year. Hopefully it’s an improvement for us. But, as I keep saying, hopefully it doesn’t happen and hopefully it’s not Hibs that do it.”
Smith is one of a dozen players who don’t yet know if they will play a part in the new campaign. Out of contract in the summer, the club has the option to extend it but he doesn’t know if they will take that up. He says it would be remiss not to consider a Plan B and has discussed the matter with his agent and will consider any other offers, but his preference would be to stay at Hearts.
“A few of the boys are uncertain of their future next year which is always going to be a worry for them. I’m in the same scenario… I’m not sure either, but hopefully Hearts ask me to stay. It’s a massive club and I’m sure all the boys will be happy to stay. Hopefully, if we get relegated, we can come back up next season.”
Pressing on through the unknown is something the players do have experience of, though. The turmoil at the club over the past couple of years has seen to that.
“Well, over the last couple of years there has been uncertainty with players not getting paid and stuff like that. But Ann Budge has come in and said she’s going to make Hearts a good environment to work and players won’t have to worry about getting paid. So hopefully for the future of Hearts it looks good. It gives you a wee bit of reassurance you’ll be paid, you’re at a good club and you’ll come in every morning and it’s going to be a happy place. That’s what she was saying. Hopefully that will then show on the pitch.”