Hearts' Toby Sibbick: It's not nice being in relegation fights where people get sacked and people lose their jobs

When Toby Sibbick first arrived at Hearts, it was the spectre of relegation and job losses that hung over the club and was the cause of considerable stress. Despite leaving themselves with no margin for error now in the chase for third and European qualification, the defender is adamant the Jambos can live with the “positive pressure” they currently face.
Toby Sibbick and Hearts face St Mirren on Saturday.Toby Sibbick and Hearts face St Mirren on Saturday.
Toby Sibbick and Hearts face St Mirren on Saturday.

With Aberdeen five points ahead, rivals Hibs just one below and today’s opponents, St Mirren, only four adrift in sixth, Hearts have major work to do in meeting their high expectations in the Premiership. From last season’s third-place finish and guaranteed group-stage European football, and at one point a commanding 10-point lead over their rivals this term, the Tynecastle outfit could conceivably miss out on continental competition altogether.

On explaining the sacking of Robbie Neilson as manager last month, chief executive Andrew McKinlay laid bare the financial consequences of such a scenario when he revealed up to £6 million of extra income was at stake. Sibbick insists there is still no comparison with life at the other end of the table.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Obviously I’ve been in relegation battles; it’s hard,” said the 23-year-old, whose loan signing from Barnsley in January 2020 plunged him into Hearts’ unsuccessful battle against demotion in the coronavirus-curtailed campaign. “If you go 1-0 down there’s a psychological factor where you almost think the game is done already, regardless of what time it is. Whereas now, even if we go 1-0 down there is still belief and confidence in the group. It’s the business end of the season, so we want to finish third and win every game.

“If you’re fighting for relegation it can obviously cost a lot of people their jobs, so it isn’t nice. With Europe, it’s something that we all tasted this season and want to get again next season. It's not nice being in relegation fights where people get sacked and people lose their jobs. Sometimes people just look at it as football, but when you’ve actually worked with people and been with them through a tough season, to see them go at the end is not nice.

“Now, it’s a positive pressure for us. We're looking forward to it, hoping to play our positive football and get three points. I think every game between now and the end of the season is a must-win. The spirit in the dressing room is still high. We’ve got enough belief and confidence in the group that we can still do it. There’s a lot to play for. There’s still a lot of football, but time is obviously running out. We just need to do what we can to get the three points.”

The untried Steven Naismith, the club’s fledgling B team manager, was the man Hearts turned to as a temporary successor to Neilson. An Edinburgh derby defeat against rivals Hibernian was an inauspicious start for Naismith, but the thrilling 6-1 thrashing of Ross County and an impressive display in a narrow defeat to Celtic last Sunday with 10 men have shown more promise.

“As a player he was a leader,” added Sibbick of the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Scotland attacker. “I remember watching him in the [English] Premiership, and playing alongside him he’s got real leadership qualities. As a manager, the players are all enjoying his sessions and his attention to detail on opponents. He’ll be a top manager if he wants to become one.”