JAMIE MacDONALD has offered some light amidst the dark clouds surrounding Tynecastle by indicating his wish to stay with Hearts even if they suffer relegation.
The 27-year-old is out of contract this summer but today revealed he would happily sign a new deal and play in the Championship next season.
Hearts are still in administration, remain bottom of the Scottish Premiership and are 16 points behind second-bottom Ross County ahead of tomorrow’s home match with Partick Thistle. They have won only once in the league since August and are overwhelming favourites to go down.
MacDonald stressed that scenario would not force him to leave in search of top-flight football. Although touted for a Scotland call-up this term, the goalkeeper believes playing in a Championship potentially including both Rangers and Dunfermline would ensure strong competition for Hearts. He is in no hurry to end his association with the Edinburgh club, which stretches back more than a decade.
The Hearts administrators BDO are in no position to discuss new contracts at the moment as they try to ensure funding is in place for the club to survive until the summer. MacDonald, though, is ready to talk when the time comes.
“Staying on is something I would happily do,” he told the Evening News. “Nobody really knows what’s going to happen right now because there’s nobody in charge to discuss that with.
“I’ve spent a long time here and I just want to play football. I think I’ve progressed and improved as a goalkeeper. If the option is there to stay, then why not?
“It’s pretty hard right now for all of us but, in the long term, this experience will be a great benefit to the young players here. They might not see that right now but there won’t be many 18-year-olds with 40 or 50 games under their belt in the top flight. Once we get out of administration, I think Hearts will be prosperous again.
“If the option is there and everything is right for both parties, then why not stay? The Championship next year won’t be like playing Annan Athletic away, no disrespect to them. The Championship is going to be a top league.
“Not that we want to be playing there but, if we were to go down, then the Championship could be almost as strong as the Premiership next year depending on who goes up and down in the summer.
“Our aim is definitely still to stay in the Premiership. There are still plenty games to go and nobody has run away from us. There are still teams within our grasp. We would like to be closer but we will still fight for every point.”
Losing the New Year Edinburgh derby leaves Hearts in a desperate situation and needing to beat both Partick Thistle tomorrow and Ross County at the end of the month to give themselves some hope.
“You would probably think we would know by the end of January if this is achievable,” continued MacDonald. “The Partick Thistle game and the Ross County game are just massive.
“There’s no point saying if we get beaten we’ve still got a chance. These are matches we simply need to win. They’re the old-fashioned six-pointers and we can draw Partick and Ross County in towards us again. If they win, it’s the opposite and it’s starting to get out of our grasp a little bit.”
With Jamie Hamill suspended and captain Danny Wilson still doubtful due to illness, the Hearts manager Gary Locke must again shuffle his thinning pack for the visit of Partick. He will also require to lift some members of his team who were left dispirited by the 2-1 defeat at Easter Road.
“In the end, Hibs probably deserved the win. There was a lot of pressure on us but I thought the boys defended really well,” said MacDonald. “We stood up to a big, physical Hibs team on good form. They’ve only lost one game since Terry Butcher came in. It was a difficult test for us and unfortunately a penalty decision goes against us and we end up with a defeat.
“It’s good to get another game coming quickly. The boys will be tired after putting a lot of effort into the derby. What people don’t realise is the mental fatigue, especially after a derby like that.
“The atmosphere was fantastic and people don’t understand how much it takes it out of you in games like that.
“We’ve had games every three days over Christmas and, unfortunately, we haven’t picked up a win yet. If you get a win or two during Christmas, you don’t really feel the tiredness as much because you have the adrenalin and buoyancy from winning. Unfortunately we’ve not had that so it’s a bit of a slog right now. All you can do is keep the faith.
“All the games are big now but this is a huge game on Sunday. We really need a win. If we get three points on Sunday, it gives us a bit of hope.”
Although there is no denying Hearts’ predicament looks daunting at best, MacDonald and his colleagues are not of a mind to produce any white flags just yet. “Everybody knew from the beginning of the season this was going to be difficult. I think it would be difficult enough with the squad we have even without the 15-point penalty. That’s an added pressure which has been put on us.
“Nobody is thinking, ‘that’s us [finished] now’. We keep going. There are still 18 games to go. Until it’s mathematically impossible for us to stay up, then nobody will be giving in.
“As a goalkeeper you want to keep clean sheets. Last year, although we didn’t have the best of seasons, I think I was second to Fraser Forster for clean sheets. This year I’ve only had two or three clean sheets. As a goalkeeper you pride yourself on clean sheets so that’s been difficult.
“Alan Combe, our goalkeeping coach, has been a big help for me since he came to the club. He’s played the game and been there himself in a long career. It’s good just to talk to somebody, especially from a goalkeeping perspective. Goalkeeping is as much mental as it is physical.”