Hearts assess re-introduction of an old league format in SWPL
The SWPL split comes into affect for the first time since 2015 a week on Sunday with Hearts assistant manager Sean Burt insisting its reintroduction adds a “competitive edge” to the league.
The Jam Tarts are fourth and due to the split, they will only compete against other top-six teams until the end of the season after this weekend’s Scottish Cup quarter-final tie at home to Celtic. This presents an enormous challenge for the Midlothian club as they have only beaten Partick Thistle so far this season who remain in the top half. However, Burt insists Hearts will “relish” the challenge as they prepare to compete against the best teams Scotland has to offer.
“It gives it a competitive edge because you are playing against strong teams”, Burt told the Edinburgh Evening News. “That’s where we want to be, we want to be at the top end of the table and facing those teams. I’m excited, but it’s going to be difficult against Celtic, Rangers and Glasgow City. Then you have got Hibs and Partick which are difficult fixtures but they are opportunities that we will relish.”
Hearts have put in some impressive performances against their upcoming opponents so far this season. The Jam Tarts made history against SWPL Champions Rangers earlier in the campaign as they picked up their first-ever point against the Glaswegians. This was followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat to upcoming Scottish Cup opponents Celtic where many will argue that the team deserved a point from the game. Full-back Addie Handley is excited by the upcoming fixtures, insisting the top three teams are out of their reach yet.
“It's so exciting”, Handley stated. “ As a player and as a young player in this league, I just want to be playing against the best players I can. Us being able to get into the top six and being fourth has put ourselves in a really good position to go and challenge. I really don’t think [the top three] are out of our reach in any way. We will go into each game, wanting three points, wanting a draw, and trying to play our best style of football and our best football.”
Hibs also finished inside the top half meaning two more Edinburgh derbies are set to take place. Both times the sides have faced each other this season, it has ended 1-1 with the most recent match taking place last month at Tynecastle. The next derby is only a month away taking place on April 16th with the reverse fixture dated for May 10th. Hearts are currently eight points clear of Hibs and are aiming to sustain that points gap.
“You have seen in the last game that us and Hibs are evenly matched, but we knew the Spartans game was an opportunity with them playing Celtic”, Burt added. “If we did our job here, it would be potentially difficult for them to pick up three points. Absolutely delighted on that front, but we don’t stop here, it’s now the top six split where we are going to face a good calibre of opposition. We want to make sure we are kicking on and getting as many points on the board as possible.”