PRIDE comes before a fall, according to the popular saying. Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald is hoping it rings true this weekend.
Beating Hibs tomorrow would be a pride-salvaging exercise with the fall of relegation looming large. It’s the best scenario possible for MacDonald and others in the Tynecastle dressing-room.
Should St Mirren avoid defeat at Inverness today, Hibs could relegate Hearts tomorrow. Avoiding that situation is uppermost in the minds of Gary Locke and his players. MacDonald has been a Hearts player for 11 years and gives the impression he would do anything not to suffer the ignominy of being sent down by the Easter Road club.
“It doesn’t matter who it’s against, you don’t want to go down,” he said. “Relegation is on the horizon unfortunately but, for the fans more than anything, you don’t want it to happen tomorrow. They will get stick regardless because of what’s happened this season but the players will be giving everything to make sure it doesn’t happen. It’s more a pride thing than anything.
“If we are relegated this weekend then it’s not this game that’s relegated us. It’s been the 15-point deduction and not being able to add to a youthful squad. There have been a lot of factors which have caused relegation, not just this one game. However, for a bit of pride, we would like to win the game and, in a way, go out with a bang.”
Should Hearts manage a victory, it could pull Hibs nearer the Scottish Premiership’s relegation play-off place. St Mirren, Ross County, Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock are the others battling to secure safety.
“I know Hibs have been on a bit of a bad run recently but they are a few points ahead of the play-off place just now,” continued MacDonald. “If we win on Sunday and results go for the other teams then you never know, they could get dragged into that relegation play-off. We’re just focusing on ourselves because we want to win for us and the fans.
“We won the first couple of derbies but we lost the last one, unfortunately. We’ve always seemed to rise to the occasion to a degree in derby games and hopefully we can do it again tomorrow. Hearts, especially in my time here, have always had a good record against Hibs. Even going back 20 years, they’ve had a good record. You’d need to ask Hibs if it’s a psychological thing or not. I don’t know if it’s just we handle the occasion better, I’m really not sure.
“I suppose Hibs will start to feel the pressure, especially if they lose the game. There is a bit of pressure on them but there’s always pressure in derby games. It doesn’t matter what the occasion is, these games are completely different to others. There is pressure on both sets of players.”
MacDonald’s own emotions are decidedly mixed as a wretched season for his club draws towards its end. As a consequence of their descent into administration, the prospect of relegation has hung like an albatross around Hearts’ necks all season. Ironically, MacDonald has produced some inspired performances in a campaign many people would rather forget.
“It’s been hard, mentally more than anything,” he explained. “You want to win games and we haven’t done that this year. Having more responsibility has taken some getting used to but it’s something I’ve probably relished. It’s been a strange season because, personally, it’s probably been the best season I’ve had in terms of performances. Yet conceding a lot of goals and losing games is strange.
“I don’t know how I’ll look back on it. Is it a success for myself, or is it not? At the end of the day it’s not because the whole aim of me staying was because I wanted to help the club stay up. It’s been a mentally tough season, as it has been for everybody. The way I look at it is it’s just going to make you stronger.
“You learn more in this kind of situation than you do winning 5-0 every week. Especially as a goalkeeper. You see what kind of character you are. This year, the one thing you can say about this team is we’ve always given everything. We’ve been poor in some games but a lot of games we’ve lost by the odd goal and been unfortunate. That little lack of experience has maybe not seen us over the finishing line.”