After a very disappointing defeat against Motherwell last week, it was great to end the home campaign with a brilliant victory against St Johnstone yesterday.
Last Tuesday we were flat and never really troubled Well. But yesterday, we were much sharper from the start with so many quality performances from Hearts players all over the pitch. It was good to see Mark Ridgers getting a debut. Regardless of whether Jamie MacDonald had been ill, I think it was important that Mark was given a run-out before the end of the season, because if anything was to happen to Jamie in the cup final, you’d always want your sub goalkeeper to have had some first-team football under his belt. The fact he’s started his Hearts career with a clean sheet will do wonders for his confidence. Having said that, he was brilliantly protected by Andy Webster, who I thought had a superb game.
I think the crowd really respected the players for the performance they put in and it was fitting that they ended with such a good display, because our home form has generally been excellent under Paulo Sergio this season. It is the games at Tynecastle that will ultimately have helped us into Europe, if indeed we can secure fifth place come Sunday.
It’s wonderful, considering all that’s happened, that they have managed to put themselves in a position where European qualification is in their own hands going into the last game of the season. Even though there’s something to play for next weekend, the manager will still have a big dilemma on his hands over how to play it at Celtic Park. He will want to give the team the best chance possible of winning the game, but with it being less than a week before the final, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was to rest most of his big guns and give some fringe men another chance to play their way into final contention. At this moment in time, I’d hazard a guess that the manager knows seven or eight of his starting XI, and is still wavering about three or four. I wouldn’t blame him at all if he felt the need to leave out some of those who are certain to start at Hampden.
Perhaps the only negative from yesterday was that I was a wee bit concerned by Paulo’s body language as he walked round the pitch at the end of the game. I hope I’m wrong because it’s no secret that I can’t speak highly enough of the job he has done, but, from his body language, I’m not convinced he’ll be the Hearts manager next season.
It was also an emotional day for Ian Black and possibly Rudi Skacel and a few others who will probably be moving on at the end of the season. The important thing is that these players will move on with the best wishes of the Hearts supporters. But, of course, those players who are departing will still have one last chance to say farewell in the most perfect way possible a week on Saturday.
If Hibs can secure their Premier League status tonight, I would love to see the next week and a bit be a real celebration of the fact the two Edinburgh clubs are in the Scottish Cup final.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime game and, as the days fly in, it’s imperative that everyone with an allegiance to either Hearts or Hibs really savours the build-up to the final. I’m Hearts through and through – albeit I’ve probably mellowed a bit towards Hibs in recent years - and there would be nothing worse than losing to our city rivals in the final. Likewise for Hibs fans if they were to lose to us. But we might never have a game like this to look forward to again so, now that it’s here, I’d just urge everyone in Edinburgh to embrace the game and enjoy every minute of the build-up.