How a third-place finish could be game-changing for Hearts and their recruitment

Hearts go into this weekend’s match with Dundee United in a commanding third-place position. The midweek win over Aberdeen, coupled with defeats for Saturday's opponents and Motherwell, plus Hibs dropping points, means the gap to fourth-place Livingston is 12 points.

Hearts disappointed the last time they were in Europe. Picture: SNS
Hearts disappointed the last time they were in Europe. Picture: SNS

With nine games remaining, Robbie Neilson’s men have one foot over the finishing line in their bid to finish third for the first time since the 2015/16 season. When it comes to having both Celtic and Rangers in the division, the best of the rest tag was last claimed in 2010/11.

Everyone at Tynecastle Park will be sticking with the mantra of ‘taking one game at a time’, while the manager reiterates “there’s still a lot of work to do”.

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Yet, such has been the nature of the Scottish Premiership this campaign, players, management, staff and fans can allow themselves to start thinking about where their passport is located and bookmarking Skyscanner in preparation for the increasingly likely European sojourn, the first since being humbled by Birkirkara debacle 2015.

Hearts are closing in on third place. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Such is the eagerness of the Hearts support, they have been singing about going to Europe in July – whether it be “train, boat, bus or fly” – when in fact a third-place finish means it won't be until August when fans can jet off across the continent.

There is still something to look forward to in July, that’s when the draw will take place.

The European landscape is much changed since the Gorgie club were being bundled out of the Europa League qualifiers by the Maltese side.

A third-place finish could be game-changing financially, providing one of the top three wins the Scottish Cup.

It would ensure qualification to the Europa League play-off and a two-legged tie to reach the group stages. A loss at that stage would see the team drop into the Conference League group stages.

All in all, it would likely mean four European games at Tynecastle Park, plus the TV revenue and prize money.

"You want to get it done as soon as you can and there’s still a lot of work to do,” Neilson said. “We’ve got this game and then a cup game coming up, which is really, really important for us.

“It’s huge. Whoever wins the cup gets direct access to the Europa League play-off and if you don’t win that you go straight into the Conference group stage.

“So, it’s worth a lot of money and it means we can re-invest it in the squad and hopefully give ourselves a chance to go and have another crack the next year to try to get into that top two."

No team outside of Celtic and Rangers has played European group stage football since Aberdeen in the 2007/08 Uefa Cup.

The money that could be on offer would be a huge boost to Hearts, so will the prestige and allure for possible summer signings. A move to Tynecastle would be a more attractive proposition.

“To be honest, it’s a big draw for people,” Neilson added. “If we can say to them they’ve got the opportunity to play at this level it’s big.

“First and foremost, we need to make sure we get there and once we get there it does help with recruitment.”

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