Locke welcomes facing Hibs in relegation game

Picture: Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HEARTS face the prospect of being relegated before they next play a game after last night’s defeat to Dundee United but they might also be condemned to the second tier by their greatest rivals at Tynecastle next Sunday.

Manager Gary Locke last night welcomed the challenge of hosting Hibernian next Sunday with so much at stake.

However, the reality is that the Tynecastle club’s on field fate could be sealed before then, with nearest rivals St Mirren, Ross County and Partick Thistle all playing three times before Hearts are next in action. The Tynecastle side are currently 21 points adrift at the bottom of the league and have 24 points to play for. Thistle, County and St Mirren have midweek fixtures as well as games tomorrow and next Saturday.

“All the other teams have to win tomorrow so we will see what will happen with that,” said Locke. “We will certainly be going into the derby with our head held high. We have to be positive. You saw the support we had tonight – absolutely fantastic again. It is important that we get the victory for them. Nobody needs to tell me the importance of an Edinburgh derby, it does not matter what is at stake. If it turns out that going into the game that they could relegate us then it adds a wee bit to the fire, but we just have to make sure we get a good result.”

After a fourth successive defeat in what were already ritical times in terms of their hopes of staying up, Locke was realistic. “We are not naieve enough and stupid enough to think that this wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “It is a bad position. Due to the youthfulness of the squad and the 15 point deduction we have got to keep plodding on and keep the heads up. I think you saw that tonight, the players never gave up, and they have to show that between now and the end of the season.”

“I was a wee bit disappointed with the way we gave the ball away for the first goal, but the second goal you have to give the lad [Ciftci] credit – it is a fantastic finish, and it is not the first time he has done that this season. We showed great character to get back into the game. We had chances first half and didn’t take them and Dundee United did.”

United manager Jackie McNamara praised his team following a third successive away victory and after a trying week off the park. A row with the Scottish Football Association over the choice of venue and ticket allocation for next month’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers at Ibrox framed last night’s fixture but United rose to the challenge.

“We had enough chances to finish it a lot earlier but I’m delighted to get the three points,” said McNamara. “I don’t think there was anything in the first half to worry us, they had one shot. We had numerous chances to kill the game but they got a lift with the goal.”