Hearts face season-defining tasks as they chase a £5m UEFA bounty

Four games between now and the Premiership split could have a season-defining effect on Hearts as they strive to cement third place. No-one need point out the significance of April to anyone at Tynecastle Park.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

International fortnight offers time for reflection and regrouping after a sequence of four defeats in five games. However, more important is how they proceed from here. They are third in the table and hold a four-point advantage over fourth-placed Aberdeen entering the nitty-gritty of the campaign.

It starts a week on Saturday when Hearts travel to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock. Then it’s St Mirren at Tynecastle the following week, followed by a trip to Easter Road for the Edinburgh derby, and finally a visit from Ross County. That’s four games on four consecutive Saturdays which offer a chance to stride ahead of their nearest challengers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Kilmarnock, of course, need points for their own cause as they strive to stay above the Premiership’s relegation zone. They are currently tenth and know that results on any given weekend could see them slip downwards. Hearts’ recent record at Rugby Park is reasonable: Their last ten visits show four wins, three draws and three losses.

Last week’s 3-0 defeat at Aberdeen, particularly the manner of the first-half capitulation, will stick in the throats of everyone at Riccarton during this international break. They need a reaction in Ayrshire. The three fixtures thereafter are no less important.

Hearts beat Hibs 3-0 on two occasions during January – once at Tynecastle in the league and then again three weeks later in the Scottish Cup fourth round. It is safe to assume that Lee Johnson and his players harbour a healthy appetite for revenge as the Capital rivals prepare to meet again. That assignment, on paper, looks the toughest of next month’s four.

St Mirren also lost at Tynecastle in January, although the scoreline in that rearranged fixture was a much closer 1-0 as Hearts forward Barrie McKay proved the difference. Ross County, second-bottom in the table, have only one win in Gorgie from 16 attempts. That came back in March 2017 when Ian Cathro was Hearts' head coach.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Post-split games will all come against top-six opponents, provided the Edinburgh club stay in the higher half of the division. It has yet to be decided how many home and away matches they will be handed by the Scottish Professional Football League, but either way their opposition will be the strongest teams in the country.

Hearts are preparing for a big month ahead when the cinch Premiership resumes.Hearts are preparing for a big month ahead when the cinch Premiership resumes.
Hearts are preparing for a big month ahead when the cinch Premiership resumes.

Garnering points throughout April is vital to build both a platform and cushion ahead of those last five fixtures. Hearts had third spot done and dusted before the split last season and could therefore relax somewhat in the final weeks. That is unlikely to be the case this time.

The reward for finishing third may well be significant once again. Provided Celtic or Rangers lift the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park on June 3, the cup’s European spot will go to the club third in the Premiership as both Glasgow clubs will be in the Champions League.

That means whoever comes third gets a place in the Europa League play-off and, crucially, a parachute into the Europa Conference League if they lose that tie. Hearts earned £5million via that route last year and banked more than £3m of it in profit. The desire to repeat that feat should be what drives them in the weeks ahead.