The Hearts players have handled everything that has been thrown at them so far this season. And their boss, Gary Locke, reckons that they will take this weekend’s clash with relegation rivals St Mirren in their stride, too.
The two teams, who are propping up the Premiership table, meet at Tynecastle this Saturday and, with so much at stake, a mouthwatering clash is in prospect.
While everyone around them is getting caught up in the hype surrounding the match against second-bottom Saints who have two points, Locke insists that he and his charges should feel no extra pressure on their shoulders.
These two sides are likely to be the ones battling it out to avoid the drop come the end of the season – Hearts having been dealt a 15-point deduction before the campaign started after entering administration – and already this game has been labelled a relegation decider.
With just seven matches gone in the 38-game Premiership season though, Locke, whose team has minus seven points, insists that it is still too early to be placing such importance on one match.
He said: “It is a huge game, there is no doubt about it, but every single game that we have played so far this season has been a huge one for us.
“I am not treating this game any differently to the other seven league matches.
“Every game that we play, especially in the league, is a cup final for us because of the situation that we find ourselves in.
“It is important for everyone to realise that the season is not going to be finished after this game, no matter what the result is. We have got a long, long way to go after this one and it is just important that we eat into the points deduction as much as we can and focus on that as our goal.
“Obviously, we are looking to win this one on Saturday but, even if we face the worst-case scenario at the end of the 90 minutes, it wouldn’t be all doom and gloom for us.
“We’ve had a half decent start and we are certainly going to be trying to win as many of our home games as we possibly can but everyone has to realise that the season lasts for 38 games and not just eight.”
Locke’s young squad have already had to cope with all sorts of pressure since the start of this season.
The Hearts boss has used players who, in truth, may have had to wait a season or two to make their first-team debuts.
But Locke is nothing but proud of the way that they have coped with everything that has been thrown at them over the last few months. And he believes that they will deal with the game against St Mirren in exactly the same manner. “So far, I think that the boys have handled things really well. We have been under pressure since the start of the campaign but I think that they are still playing with a freedom and they are enjoying their football.
“Myself and Billy will always let them go out there and express themselves, we always want them to be positive.”
Locke might not want to heap any more pressure onto his players’ shoulders this week but there’s no doubting that he and assistant Billy Brown will be like a couple of jack-in-the-boxes on Saturday.
Brown, in particular, is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve and often gets caught up in the occasion and Locke admitted that the supporters can expect to see more passion from them.
“We are passionate people. If we weren’t showing any passion then we would all have a problem. This is a big, big game but it’s no bigger than the ones that we have already faced.”
While trying to play down the importance of Saturday’s match, Locke did, however, admit that these are the games that Hearts must be looking to win if they are to survive in the top flight.
The Jambos have silenced some of their critics already with home league victories against Hibs and Aberdeen while drawing against Dundee United. Saints are down there fighting for their lives and matches against them and the likes of Ross County and Kilmarnock are the ones which will make the real difference this season.
Locke continued: “We were delighted with the performance against Dundee United last weekend and it would have been great to get the three points from that but we have to be happy with the draw.
“As long as we can keep clawing some ground back, that’s all we can ask for. We set ourselves an initial target of zero points and the sooner that we can get there, the better. After that we can look at setting ourselves a different target.”
While Locke has had pressures of his own to deal with this season, his counterpart this weekend, Danny Lennon, has not had his troubles to seek either. The Paisley side have struggled in the league this season and there have been calls for the Buddies boss to go.
Lennon himself is confident that he can turn things around for Saints and Locke has some sympathy with his fellow manager.
He added: “This is a difficult job. I have only been doing it for a short period of time and it’s been good for me to have someone of the experience of Billy alongside me because it is not easy.
“You are always under pressure and I think that some of the things that people have been saying about Danny are ridiculous.
“He won St Mirren the League Cup last season and he’s got a good record of keeping them in the division.
“He’s had a difficult run and done a good job there. People tend to forget that.”
He knows that Saints have experience right through their side, from Jim Goodwin at the back, to striker Steven Thompson at the front.
Locke and his backroom staff took in Saints’ 1-1 draw with Aberdeen on Monday night in preparation for this weekend’s game and he added: “Myself, Billy and Alan Combe went to watch them and it was one of those games.
“St Mirren started off nervously but once they got the goal I thought that they really grew in confidence.
“Aberdeen got the late equaliser but I think St Mirren did well.
“This weekend will be a really difficult game, we know that.
“They have got a lot of experienced players, although they have been going through a bit of a difficult patch at the moment.
“They’ll be hoping that Monday night can be the result that starts to turn things around in their favour again.
“Big Steven Thompson up front is a handful and he has got a lot of experience, as has Paul McGowan who plays just in front of him.
“Those two link up well and I think that they managed to cause Aberdeen quite a lot of problems.
“They’ve got good strength in depth to their squad and I know that our players will have to put in the same kind of performance on Saturday as they did last weekend against United.
“If we do that, then we will hopefully not be too far away.”