RYAN STEVENSON today admitted Hearts are running out of time to secure a top-six place in the Scottish Premier League and warned his colleagues that finishing in the bottom half of the table is not acceptable at Tynecastle.
The midfielder stressed Hearts “definitely aren’t a bottom-six club” and explained the need to build momentum in the league to propel the club into the top half before the mid-April split. Although the League Cup final on March 17 provides a welcome distraction from the SPL, Stevenson believes a top-six finish is essential.
Hearts are unbeaten in three games ahead of tomorrow’s league encounter with Dundee United at Tannadice but currently lie eighth in the league.
Such is the congested nature of the SPL that second-placed Inverness are only seven points better off than the Edinburgh club, which gives Stevenson hope that a run of results will secure top-six football.
“It’s exciting that we’ve got something to aim towards with the final but the bread and butter is the SPL and we’re running out of time,” he told the Evening News. “The split is coming up and we don’t want to get to the final and be loitering around unsure if we’ll be in the top six.
“Inverness are sitting second in the table and they’re only seven points in front of us so it’s still well within our grasp. The biggest thing is going on a run now and making sure we’re playing well week in and week out. You obviously want to be doing well going into the cup final, but I think bigger than that we need to finish as high up the league as we can. Hearts is a massive club and since I came here, we’ve always had high finishes in the SPL. We want to do that again.
“Hearts definitely aren’t a bottom-six club. People look at us and say there are a lot of young boys playing but I still don’t see any excuse for being in the bottom six. I don’t think that would wash here, certainly not with me or any of the players.
“Since I came back we’ve been decent in most of the games and competed well. There’s been maybe some individual errors or a lapse in concentration that cost us, but there is an opportunity there for us to push on. Every year I’ve been here we’ve gone on good runs in the middle of the season which have propelled us to higher positions. We need that again.”
If Hearts can produce consistent form over the next eight weeks, Stevenson sees no reason why they can’t secure European football for next season. “Getting into Europe would be another massive thing for our young boys to sample next year,” he added. “The cup final is there but we need to concentrate on the SPL and get up the league. Where we are just now is not good enough.”
Hearts have confirmed Callum Paterson will be out for around three months with torn ligaments in his foot.
Meanwhile, tickets for the League Cup final will go on sale soon, priced £30, £25 and £20, with Hearts fans occupying Hampden’s East, North and South Stands. The club has been allocated 25,500 tickets in total, with St Mirren getting 17,000. As a result of Hearts’ involvement in the League Cup final, the SPL gane at home to St Johnstone has been brought forward to Tuesday, March 5, with a 7.45pm kick-off.
n THE Hearts Youth Development Committee are holding their annual Burns Supper on Friday, February 22, in Tynecastle’s Gorgie Suite. Any supporters wishing to attend the event should call 0131 200 7216 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Tickets cost £20 each or £200 for a table of ten.