Hearts boss remains focused on Celtic despite derby win delirium all around

AS a staunch Jambo, Jim Jefferies probably wanted to party all week after Hearts triumphed in the Edinburgh derby. Few could have blamed the manager for allowing himself to be carried along on a wave of emotion.

He would certainly have had plenty willing accomplices in fellow Tynecastle devotees like Gary Locke, Ian Black and Jason Thomson. Yet as the team coach bounced along to The Hearts Song on its way along Albion Road and back up Easter Road on Sunday afternoon, the manager was already planning ahead. Colleagues danced with joy around him, but he could already see Celtic on the horizon.

The SPL fixture list has accorded Jefferies and his charges a punishing week comprising three games inside six days. Hibernian are followed by Celtic tonight before Saturday's visit to St Johnstone. Jefferies knows it is a period which potentially could underpin Hearts' European aspirations.

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Sunday's success in Leith helped banish the misery of the 3-0 home loss to Kilmarnock and restore a touch of momentum. Hearts now have three victories and three clean sheets from their last four league encounters and, consequently, have little reason to fear Celtic at home.

The difficulty may be suppressing exhilaration after defeating Hibernian so comfortably. Jefferies and his players surfed an emotional high at full-time on Sunday and joyfully accepted acclaim in front of their own fans after a memorable result in the domain of their greatest rivals. Their satisfaction doubtless stemmed from emerging unscathed from a riotous afternoon despite all the abuse and missiles being hurled in their direction.

Now they must re-focus, for lingering too long on the delirium of a derby triumph could be detrimental to hopes of usurping third-placed Motherwell in the SPL. A result against Celtic - a draw would be perfectly acceptable - followed by three points in Perth would maintain the forward thrust whilst offering further evidence that Hearts are genuine contenders for Europe.

In order to achieve these stated aims, Jefferies must do something which goes against his natural instincts as a Hearts supporter and curb celebrations after beating Hibs. Tempering the excitement won't be easy.

"We knew it would be a happy camp if we put in a good performance and got a result, and we did both," he said. "The boys were buzzing afterwards, although we do have a few wounded. They were up for a battle and a lot of them won their individual battles.

"The players knew my feelings on the Kilmarnock game and they came in for some heavy words after that because we competed very well in the two matches previous to that. It wasn't acceptable.

"The derby was the right game to go into so credit where credit's due.

"We said to them on Monday that they took the stick for the previous performance and they deserve praise now because everybody was outstanding on Sunday.

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"They showed a great will and application. Not every game is like a derby with the atmosphere and what not, but your application shouldn't alter.

"If we go about our business and play as a team like we did against Hibs, I'm not saying we'll win every game but we'll be a very difficult team to beat. Sometimes it won't be your day and you can accept that. What we can't accept is lack of commitment for the jersey. They didn't let us down on Sunday and we have to find that on a consistent basis.

"The feet need to be on the ground now. We are playing against a very good team who are also on a high after their performance on Saturday. Sometimes you look at it and, no disrespect, but if you're playing a lesser team people are maybe thinking it's a foregone conclusion or taking it for granted. Things can be a bit flat.

"There will be a great atmosphere (tonight] because both teams are going into it playing well. The crowd will be up for it, they will be right behind us. It should be a cracking game."

Celtic's 9-0 mauling of Aberdeen was the SPL's largest victory margin since its inception in 1998. Jefferies has only ever been involved in such a scoreline as a schoolboy but is adamant it will not cause complacency amongst the ranks of the Parkhead club.

"I'm not sure you get Celtic and Rangers being complacent against anybody," he continued. "It's ground into them what levels they expect, going from first minute to last minute. They have pressures to win every week in every game.

"They are used to winning more often than not. They will know this game will be difficult and, if they're on a massive high, then we have to be on a massive high because we've just put in a great performance against our big rivals.

"You have to give both Old Firm clubs credit, they have made fantastic starts to the season. They know themselves they aren't going to win every game. If you take the top two away, you see how close the league is from third right down.

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"Celtic have only been beaten by Rangers. Somewhere down the line somebody is going to have to beat them, it's just a fact of life. They aren't going to win every game although they will try to.

"When you play against Rangers or Celtic at home there is a better atmosphere and fans are up for it. We should be going into it on a high because we've just played well and won a very important match. That should give us confidence."

Celtic manager Neil Lennon attended Easter Road on Sunday to cast his eye over this evening's opponents and would have been impressed with the discipline, tenacity and clinical finishing displayed by Hearts. He would also have noted one or two defensive aberrations in the first half which went unpunished by a toothless Hibernian forward line.

His own forwards presently in rampant form, the Northern Irishman will look to them to upset Marius Zaliukas and Ismael Bouzid and cause general panic amongst the Hearts rearguard.

A major dilemma for Jefferies involves who to select as his traditional winger tomorrow. Fitness permitting, does he keep faith with derby darling David Templeton and let him loose on Celtic? Or is Suso Santana, whose form has at times been breathtaking this season, the more sensible option?

Templeton's slight frame proved notably robust on Sunday amidst some reckless tackles, therefore he should be able to handle the physical aspect of facing Celtic. Add to that his ability to produce a magical moment like his goal and you have an extremely useful attacking weapon. However, there is an argument that the tight confines of Tynecastle are not best suited to the 21-year-old when the opposition are guaranteed to close all open space.

Suso's close control and dribbling skills, added to a more developed physique, make him more adaptable in confined areas when opposition defenders crowd around him.

The Spaniard has also earned a reputation as something of a big-game player since arriving at Tynecastle 17 months ago. He has scored against Celtic, Rangers and Hibs and can count seven goals to his name in maroon. Jefferies will not deploy both Suso and Templeton in the same side against an Old Firm club, and certainly not whilst Rudi Skacel is a certain starter. That would mean too much attacking emphasis and not enough solidity to resist Celtic's inevitable advances. So it remains to be seen who he chooses and what impact they can have on another high octane occasion.

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"Kevin Kyle took a few knocks on Sunday. His good looks were ruined a few years ago though," laughed the manager. "I was in the treatment room on Monday and there were cuts and bruises everywhere. Kevin's a big strong character and I'm sure he'll recover in time.

"Temps had a dead leg and was on the treatment table on Monday. Suso, with the knee problem he has, we thought it would be better to keep him as he would have a better chance of facing Celtic. If he'd played part of the derby he might not have recovered in time because his knee stiffens up after games, but I'm expecting him to be okay tonight."