Hearts boss says top six is priority

Paulo Sergio
Paulo Sergio
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PAULO SERGIO’S major target for Hearts this season is retaining a place in the top six of the Scottish Premier League. The Tynecastle manager, buoyed by the signing of striker Craig Beattie, also wants further progress in the Scottish Cup and admitted frustration at recent inconsistent results.

As Hearts prepare to host Dundee United today in the SPL, Sergio stressed that securing top-six status before the league split in April was his main objective. The Edinburgh club sat joint fourth in the league table ahead of this afternoon’s encounter but have won only one of their last six games.

“These last few weeks, we didn’t create as many chances as before,” explained Sergio. “I believe in our last game (the 3-0 loss at Motherwell), the team lost one of its characteristics – aggression when we don’t have the ball. That can also influence things when you have the ball. I want to believe that was because of all the games we have been playing. After a normal week of work, I wait for a different answer.

“This has been a very hard season for us. We lost a few players in January and we have different solutions now. Because of that, I’m always saying that nobody can have expectations for this team to be third or fourth. Of course, my goal in the league right now is to keep the team in the top six. That’s my priority, along with the Scottish Cup.

“We know it’s going to be a fight to achieve that because other teams have improved their squads in January and they are getting closer because we did not get the results we wanted in the last few games.”

Sergio feels his players can help themselves reverse the recent downturn by showing better resolve. He also complained again of a supposedly hectic fixture schedule despite Hearts playing just two midweek games since the turn of the year.

“Like I said, we lost one of our characteristics, to not allow the others to make their game,” he said. “We have been soft when we don’t have the ball. It’s a thing we have to change right now.

“I believe that fatigue is more psychological than physical. We have had lots of games, playing every three days, so the way we work in training was changed because we didn’t have time. We recovered and prepared the team for the next game in one day. We were doing that for the last eight or nine games We are trying to put things in place again.

“We have to talk, we have to make people believe what they are doing well and not so well right now, and work on that in training to improve.”

David Templeton’s groin injury is the biggest injury concern for Sergio at the moment, with the winger expected to miss Hearts’ “next few games”. On United, the manager predicted an awkward task if his side are to return to winning form.

“Of course the results give confidence to the people,” he said. “I know that we’re going to have a very hard game here, because they are playing very well. They have very good young players and we know it’s going to be a hard job. But I want people to be positive and think, ‘we’re going to have a hard game, but we have to play our football to go for the three points’.”

An upturn in results would enhance the prospect of Sergio being granted an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of the season. The Portuguese coach said he has spoken with directors but is not overly concerned with the matter right now.

“Yes we have spoken, but I’m not worried with that. I’m worried with the Dundee United game and what I want my team to do. I’m not worried at all about my future. When the moment arrives it’s going to be the board who says when we talk.

“I live in the present. The present is more important than about in the future. If you’ve got a strong present I’m sure the future is going to be very good. ”