RYAN STEVENSON’S reasons for wanting Hearts to overhaul Kilmarnock at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership are two-fold.
Firstly, and most importantly, he desperately wants his club to avoid relegation. Secondly, he would allow himself a wry smile at the suffering of an Ayrshire rival having supported Ayr United since childhood.
The midfielder makes an open joke of his disdain for Kilmarnock, having grown up watching the Honest Men, their close neighbours. However, he is not concerned with who Hearts can overtake. The priority is catching someone, anyone, to ensure top-flight survival after a 15-point deduction for entering administration. Ahead of this afternoon’s encounter with Motherwell at Fir Park, Hearts sit bottom of the league and ten points behind Kilmarnock. They travel to Rugby Park in seven days’ time. “We would take anyone – Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Ross County, whoever is down the bottom we need to try and latch onto them,” said Stevenson. “It’s Kilmarnock just now and it’s nice as an Ayr United fan to see them down there. I would be very happy if we could bypass them. It would be nice to get a result this week to give us confidence going into that Kilmarnock game.”
First up is Motherwell as Hearts look to end a disappointing sequence of results which sees them without a league win since August 24. Stevenson insisted confidence has not been damaged, though.
“That’s a lot of rubbish, there was always going to be blips along the way. We just need to keep chipping away. We are ten behind Kilmarnock and we are playing them next week. We need to keep chipping away at the gap. I would personally have liked to have kept playing and getting more games [after returning from injury] but the break was probably the best thing for the team after the St Mirren game. We were disappointed, not just with the result, but the performance, so it was good to go away and regroup.
“The boys aren’t down or anything. They are all good boys and they understand that losing is part of football, but they are playing under more difficult circumstances than usual and the onus is on the older lads like me, Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Danny Wilson to lead from the front.
“It’s been a difficult week after the St Mirren game but hopefully we have rubbed off on the young boys because we all know the importance of the next three games. It’s water off a duck’s back to the younger boys anyway. St Mirren was probably the first performance of the season in which the team has let themselves down, but they don’t appear to have let it get on top of them. Everyone is buzzing, you know what young boys are like.”
The youthfulness of Hearts’ squad has been well documented, but Stevenson believes the “Scottishness” is a major advantage in the fight for survival.
“I think the way the manager and Billy have been you know what you’re going to get off them,” he continued. “They lead from the front and it’s all young Scottish boys who understand Hearts, understand the situation as a whole and understand what exactly it means to everyone at this club. Everyone knows that if we do stay up, this team will be classed as legends and heroes. To be classed as legends at 21 and below that is not something that happens to many football players so everyone grasps the enormity of the situation.
“I don’t recognise myself in the younger ones, they’re far better than me when I was that age. But what a chance they have got. I keep emphasising that to them. It took me a long time to get to club the size of Hearts. I had to go the long way round to get here. Some of the boys like Jason Holt and Jamie Walker have been out on loan at Raith Rovers so they’ve seen the other side of the game. There’s a lot of worse places you could be than Hearts.
“Often you don’t realise how good you have it until you leave. I went to Ipswich, which was a great club, but there’s something about Hearts and I had to come back here. But for these boys to be playing every week in front of a rocking full Tynecastle every week – and in front of an amazing away support following us across the country – is a really unique opportunity for these young players.
“The big thing for the club is to stay in the Premiership so it stays as big a club as it should be. And if these players do it, they will be legends by 21.
“We were massively disappointed to lose to St Mirren, but we need to bounce back at Motherwell, although I think it’s going to be up there with Parkhead in terms of hard places to go this season. It’s going to be a tough task, but it’s one we will embrace.”