More than 2000 Hearts fans are expected to descend on Paisley tomorrow for a match with St Mirren that is now meaningless.
The home team are safe from relegation, whilst the visitors have known for some time that they will play Championship football next season. This is Hearts’ supporters’ chance to bid farewell to top-flight football.
Extra tickets were given to the Tynecastle club before St Mirren moved clear of the relegation play-off place. Initial suspicions were that this fixture could have a major bearing on who finishes second bottom and is forced into a dreaded two-legged tie to stay in the division.
That is no longer the case, but the Hearts support will still travel west in their numbers. This has been a season like no other, with administration, a points deduction and signing embargo leaving their team crippled and certainties for relegation all the way. Recently, though, they have mounted a stirring recovery to end the season on a high.
For Gary Locke and his players, they now have the opportunity to bow out of the Premiership with a win. Relentless backing from supporters has preserved Hearts’ very existence this season following last summer’s financial collapse. All concerned hope they will be absent from the top flight for one year only and the aim is to ensure they finish strongly.
“It’s different class to have that many fans going to the game,” said midfielder Jason Holt. “We want to finish the season on a high and put on a show for the supporters. We want a positive result. We owe a huge thank you to them because they’ve continued to back us.
“We had over 14,000 at the Partick Thistle game on Wednesday night, which is tremendous. Over 2000 are going through to St Mirren. I don’t think any other team would do that. Hopefully we can get a positive result for them.”
Thistle’s 4-2 win at Tynecastle secured their Premiership status for next season. It also ended Hearts’ recent prosperity following five wins and a draw from their previous six matches.
“Going into half-time with a 2-1 lead was pleasing and we wanted to start the second half strongly,” explained Holt. “It’s disappointing to lose the game, especially because we’ve been on such a good run recently. For it to come to an end now is frustrating. Our form has been decent so we’ll look to pick it up again for one more time against St Mirren to make sure we end the season with a win.”
Holt’s personal fortunes have been mixed this season and he feels partly that the campaign is ending slightly sooner than he would have liked. A broken metatarsal bone in his foot robbed the 21-year-old of more than three-months of football. He returned in mid-February in time to play a part in the team’s fine run of form.
“I’d like to keep going. I was playing before my injury but since I’ve come back and got myself back in the side I’ve enjoyed it. The team has done well and the form has been great. Hopefully I can play on Saturday and bow out with a good display.”
He has also been entrusted with a new role since returning – that of holding midfielder. The sight of the 5ft 5in youngster scrapping and scratching for second balls in the middle of the park is new given he is generally regarded as a more creative and attack-minded player. Nonetheless, it is a task he has embraced. “It’s not like me. I think a lot of people will have seen another side to me which they aren’t used to seeing. I’m getting into tackles and putting myself about a wee bit.
“It’s different to what I’m used to. I usually get further up the park a bit more, but I’m doing a job for the team and I’ll happily do that. Since I’ve been playing there we’ve done quite well and I’ve enjoyed it because of that good form.
“Since I’ve been back playing, the foot has been fine and I haven’t had any problems. When I first came back I had a wee minor setback which kept me out for a week. There hasn’t been anything else since then and, touch wood, long may that continue.”
Asked about his long-term future, Holt is decidedly coy. His contract expires in June but Hearts have first option to extend it for a further 12 months. Provided they can exit administration in time with Ann Budge in charge, they would appear certain to do so. “We’ll wait and see when the new owner comes in and take it from there. We’ll play it by ear because no-one knows what will happen until the new owner comes in,” said Holt, who has previously been the subject of interest from clubs in England including Nottingham Forest.
“I think we’re looking forward to the summer first. It has been a long and hard season for everyone involved at the club. We want to get away and switch off for a wee bit. I’m sure the boys will be keeping on top of things and keeping themselves in shape during the close season.
“I like to get into the gym and go for runs to keep myself going but, at the same time, I like to switch off from the football. I’ll go away for a couple of weeks in the sun after the season is finished.”