Gary Locke today warned his Hearts side they must handle the magnitude of Saturday’s trip to relegation rivals Kilmarnock a lot better than they did in their last crunch game at home to St Mirren.
The manager billed this weekend’s match at Rugby Park as the biggest of his young team’s season, as he knows defeat to second-bottom Killie could see them fall 16 points adrift at the foot of the table.
The last time Hearts went into a match with so much at stake was earlier this month, when St Mirren, who were then second bottom and without a win, came to Tynecastle and left with a 2-0 victory after the hosts produced one of their limpest displays of the season.
Locke is praying lessons have been learned from that harrowing day as his team bid to pick up their first league win since beating Aberdeen two months ago.
“Saturday is the biggest game of our season so far,” he told the Evening News. “We cut the gap on the teams above us at the start of the season, but the way results went last weekend, it’s opened up a bit again. We’re playing the team directly above us, which happened when we played St Mirren and we didn’t put in a performance that day.
“It’s important that we handle the pressure of this game better than we did that day. It’s really important that we try and pick up a few points to try and close the gap again and put pressure back on the teams above us.”
Locke finds himself in the strange situation of facing one of his good friends and former Hearts and Kilmarnock teammates in the shape of Allan Johnston, who is now boss of the Ayrshire side. The heat had been building on Johnston before his side won their first so far. The support we took to Motherwell was brilliant – they filled the top tier and really got behind the team.
“Because we’re such a young team, I had a feeling we’d probably hit a stage of the season where we’d hit a rough spell and we seem to be having it at the moment. It’s been a difficult few weeks but there’s no doom and gloom in the dressing-room or the training academy. It’s more important than ever now that everyone sticks together and gets behind the team, and if that happens, we can get out of the rut we’re in.”