THE ridiculous notion of Hearts lying down against Rangers tomorrow is not something Sam Nicholson tolerates.
The young winger may still be in the embryonic stage of his career, but he knows precisely what any Hearts v Rangers match means.
The Glasgow club will go full throttle at Tynecastle tomorrow, and Nicholson knows his team-mates must do likewise, even though they are playing for nothing but pride.
Rangers need points if they are to overhaul Hibs and secure second place in the Scottish Championship, thus consigning the Easter Road club to an extra round of play-off matches. Nicholson’s defiant tone suggests Hearts have little interest in the outcome of the scenario involving their Edinburgh rivals. They simply want a victory to spark the celebrations when SPFL secretary Iain Blair hands over the Championship trophy.
Indeed, the trip to Tynecastle is as big as any fixture this season for Rangers as they try to complete three successive promotions and rejoin Scotland’s top flight. The hazardous play-offs become slightly less daunting for the team finishing second, with only two rounds to negotiate rather than three. Nicholson stressed that Hearts’ motivation is helped by the fact their opponents are playing for a massive cause.
“I suppose it does help us. We know they’ve got a lot to play for,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “If we were ever to lie down – which we won’t – Rangers would do damage to us. Any team would do damage if anyone were to lie down. We won’t let that happen as a club. Whether we have something to play for or not, we need to go out and try to get points from the game.
“Rangers are going to come out hard. They are playing for something. They’ll be wanting to finish second. Hibs will want to finish second, so they’ve got everything to play for. They’ll be treating this like the biggest game of the season, and rightly so. We would be doing the same in their position. They will definitely come at us. They need to, I suppose.
“It’s all about having something to play for and they certainly have a cause tomorrow. We need to play for pride and to make sure it’s a good day for our fans. Both teams do have something to play for. Rangers maybe have a lot more to play for than us, in terms of that second place, but we’re never going to lie down. We’re never going to lie down to anyone on any day.
“We need to go out to try and get something out of the game. We get to lift the trophy in front of the fans at Tynecastle and it wouldn’t be nice to do it after a loss. People might say we aren’t playing for anything but we’ve got the fans there. We need to try and impress and get a result.”
Nicholson is like many others in the Riccarton dressing-room this week – an excitable kid. Brad McKay, Jamie Walker, Billy King, Neil Alexander, Dale Carrick, Callum Paterson and several others will be exactly the same. Tomorrow, they get to lift silverware playing for their boyhood heroes at Tynecastle. For Nicholson, the day will be extra special given he will be reunited with his three elder brothers – David, Ross and Danny.
“I’ve got all my family coming from England,” he explained. “All three of my brothers will be there and it’s going to be the first time in ages that all four brothers will be together.
“It’s going to be a brilliant day. I’m looking forward to spending it with them. I’ll have my mum and dad there as well and it will be emotional for my family. I went to Hearts games with my family when I was a kid. I had a season ticket for three years with my dad and two of my brothers, Ross and David.
“It’s going to be emotional for us but it’s a day I’m really looking forward to.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a wee boy, winning a trophy with Hearts. Obviously, when I was a boy I didn’t think it would be the Championship trophy. I thought it would be one of the cups or something like that. I always wanted to win something with Hearts and to know I can do it this season is brilliant. The boys have been fantastic.
“When I was younger, I dreamed of playing against Hibs and scoring against them. It’s like a young Hibs fan, his dream is to score against Hearts. I achieved that earlier this season and now I’ve achieved this. I’m really enjoying my football right now and things are going the right way for me.”
Eight years at Riccarton saw Nicholson work hard to push himself through the various age levels of academy football and achieve his stated aim. Yet he admits there were several points during his teens when he thought Hearts were ready to discard him.
“I joined Hearts when I was 12. It’s every kid’s dream to play for the first team and that was always a target of mine. I’ve said this before and I don’t like saying it but what happened last season because of the state the club was in was good for me. It gave people like me, Billy King and Jamie Walker a chance. I can’t complain. Everyone needs to work hard to get somewhere in life and everyone in our team has worked hard to get to this point.
“When I was younger, Hearts were very good with me, very patient. There were stages when I was going through growth spurts and I wasn’t playing too well but they stuck by me. There were seasons when I thought I could get released but they kept me on. They’ve seen something and I’m grateful for that faith. I’m glad I’ve been a part of the team that’s won a trophy.”