Gary Mackay: Raised expectations give next two games added importance

IT pretty much sums up how far Hearts have come over the past year that I'm sitting here disappointed that Celtic have left it late to claim three points when it looked as if they were going to be held to another draw.

Like many Hearts supporters at the moment I'm now thinking that every time Celtic slip up it gives us a chance to narrow the gap when we next take to the field, but unfortunately it wasn't to be yesterday.

I would expect the players and management would be of a similar mindset where they are now looking at catching the big two instead of just looking to pull away from the chasing pack in the battle for third. The fact we are in a position to think like that is testament to the work of everyone at the football club over the past few months.

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Everyone was disappointed the Kilmarnock game was off but on the positive side it gives the players a few days extra to recharge their batteries ahead of two really important games this week. When you've got six points to play for in such a short space of time, how these two games pan out could have a big impact on your final league placing.

First up is St Mirren away, which was always going to be a hard game, but it becomes even harder now because they've had a game this weekend to boost their match fitness and they'll also take a huge lift from the fact they've had a positive result. They're a very dogged side, with some physical players. In Craig Dargo, they've got a dangerous striker who worked under Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown at Kilmarnock and I'm sure, with him being an Edinburgh boy, he'll be especially keen to make an impact against Hearts.

If Hearts get through the trip to Paisley without suffering any injuries and without losing then they will be in fine fettle going into one of the most eagerly-awaited derby matches from our point of view for some time. By contrast Hibs have had a bad result at the weekend and they have a really tough game at home to Dundee United next, so both sides will certainly be hoping to set themselves up for the derby by getting positive results on Wednesday.

The one great thing about the derby is that common sense has prevailed and the game is back on New Year's Day. It would have been nice if it was a 3pm kick-off, but in this day and age you can't have everything. The fact the game is sold out just sums up the mood in the Hearts support at present and it will be a nice wee reward for the players to run out in front of a full house after their excellent recent run.

We will hopefully get some big performances from our so-called match-winners like David Templeton and Rudi Skacel, but the key thing for Hearts is that the team ethic which they've fostered this season once again shines through. Sometimes when there's so much focus on a game, you find that it's a player you'd least expect who can emerge as the hero and hopefully that man will be wearing a maroon shirt on Saturday. The way the two sides' form has been lately means there will be huge expectation that Hearts will swat Hibs aside, and that's something the Hearts players will have to cope with. But Jim has assembled a professional group of players and I wouldn't expect that to prove too much of a problem. There has been much written in the past few days about the last New Year's Day derby in 1998 when Hearts were flying and Hibs were toiling but we ended up squandering a 2-0 lead at Tynecastle. Jim was the manager that day and that game will be fresh in his memory so I'm sure he and Billy will make the players well aware of the dangers of taking Hibs lightly.

Every Edinburgh derby is a big game but a New Year's Day game is out on its own - it's just totally different. The one that sticks out for me is obviously the one where I scored at both ends in the lion's den (Easter Road) in one of the first live games on BSkyB. I'll be more than happy if a Hearts player scores an own goal this weekend as long as his team are in the position that we were in back then - leading 3-0 and cruising to victory.

• AS I wish all the readers a very Happy New Year, my thoughts are with the family and friends of all the good Jambos - fans and ex-players - who have sadly passed away throughout 2010.