Gary Locke outlines Hearts battle lines

UP HIS SLEEVE: Hearts manager Gary Locke dishes out instructions during training as Hearts fine-tune their plans ahead of facing St Mirren. Picture: Jane Barlow

UP HIS SLEEVE: Hearts manager Gary Locke dishes out instructions during training as Hearts fine-tune their plans ahead of facing St Mirren. Picture: Jane Barlow

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GARY LOCKE expects to sacrifice pretty football for battling qualities at Tynecastle tomorrow as Hearts enter a crucial relegation scrap with St Mirren.

Victory for the hosts would reduce the gap between the Scottish Premiership’s two bottom clubs to six points and Locke has readied his players for another bruising and passionate encounter.

“It will be a battle but all the games in this league are like that. It’s another big game but we’ve had a lot of big games so far this season and the boys have applied themselves brilliantly,” said the Hearts manager today.

“If we could get a sell-out crowd that would be wonderful for the players, but it doesn’t matter how many fans turn up as long as they all get right behind the team. So far the players have responded to the support we’re getting.”

Locke stressed that, while tomorrow’s game is vital, the result will not define Hearts’ entire season.

“Hopefully everything goes well in this game but, if it doesn’t, we still have a lot of matches left,” he continued. “There’s no doubt it’s a big game because St Mirren are the team directly above us. They could go on a run of games and we’d be looking at someone else to target.

“It is a big game but not as big as everyone is trying to make out.

“People are saying if you get beat it’s the end of the world and that’s certainly not the case. It’s a match we need to try and win. If we want to give ourselves a chance of remaining in the league, these are games we’ve got to win.

“It’s great that we’ve eaten into the 15-point deduction. I’d like it to be more. All we can do is keep winning football matches, our target hasn’t changed because we’re trying to get to zero points.”

Ryan Stevenson is expected to play from the start for Hearts tomorrow after returning from a knee ligament injury as a substitute against Dundee United last weekend.

“For me, it’s not a big decision [to start Stevenson],” said Locke. “He’s trained for a couple of weeks and he’s training well.

“We’ll have a conversation about it but he’s training well so he will certainly come into the reckoning for the weekend.

“We don’t have a lot of experience in the team and you saw last week when he came on that he has the ability to slow the game down a bit.

“He’s an intelligent football player and we’re delighted to have him back. We’ve not decided yet whether he’ll start or be on the bench.

“He worked really hard last week and he’s a big player for us. I’m delighted to have him back. He has a huge role to play. He’s an experienced player and we don’t have a lot of them. It’s important we manage him right because he’s been out for a lengthy period.”