Hearts set points target for rest of the season to give themselves best chance at third place

Toby Sibbick insists every game between now and the end of the season is a “must win” for Hearts in their bid to overhaul Aberdeen in the cinch Premiership.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The Tynecastle side are five points behind the Pittodrie club with just four games remaining. Guaranteed access to either the Europa League or Europa Conference League group stages is the carrot dangling in front of them, which will also bring with it £5 million-plus in additional revenue.

The two teams face off next week but Hearts are looking to cut into the gap before the sides meet in the Capital. At the same time Hearts are squaring off against St Mirren in Paisley, Aberdeen are hosting the Jambos’ biggest rivals Hibs, who themselves will be back in the hunt for third if they manage to get three points at Pittodrie.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hearts also travel to Rangers and entertain Hibs in their remaining games. Sibbick insists the goal is to get 12 points to give themselves the best possible chance of reclaiming third place after surrendering a one commanding lead.

Toby Sibbick in action during Hearts' defeat to Celtic last weekend. Picture: SNSToby Sibbick in action during Hearts' defeat to Celtic last weekend. Picture: SNS
Toby Sibbick in action during Hearts' defeat to Celtic last weekend. Picture: SNS

“I think every game between now and the end of the season is a must-win,” said the centre-back.

“The spirit in the dressing room is still high. We've got enough belief and confidence in the group that we can still do it. There's a lot to play for. There's still a lot of football, but time is obviously running out.

“If Aberdeen, let's say, lose on Saturday, their confidence could be low. At the end of the day we're just focusing on ourselves for now. The rest will take care of itself.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We still think it's in our hands. All we can do now is win every game between now and the end of the season, and Aberdeen are probably thinking the same. Everyone thinks there's no pressure on us, but we put the pressure on ourselves. We want to win every game and finish third. We're going to do everything we can to get there.

Toby Sibbick was involved in a relegation battle during his first spell with Hearts. Picture: SNSToby Sibbick was involved in a relegation battle during his first spell with Hearts. Picture: SNS
Toby Sibbick was involved in a relegation battle during his first spell with Hearts. Picture: SNS

“In football nothing is guaranteed. Of course, we had a nice little gap. We hit a bad run of form and that happens sometimes in football. Obviously, us as players didn't want that to happen, but it did and now it's down to us to change it around.”

Despite being only 23 years old, Sibbick is used to experiencing different types of pressure at the business end of the campaign. He was part of the Hearts squad who were unfairly relegated when the 2019/20 season was prematurely brought to a close, he experienced both relegation and promotion battles with Barnsley, and he helped Hearts get over the line in the bid for Europe last term.

In terms of fighting for Europe or fighting for people’s livelihoods, this is the type of pressure which Sibbick must prefers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I've been in relegation battles, it's hard,” he said. “If you go 1-0 down there's a psychological factor where you almost think the game is done already, regardless of what time it is. Whereas now, even if we go 1-0 down there is still belief and confidence in the group. We do think we have the players to turn it around even if we do go 1-0 down.

Toby Sibbick was involved in both relegation and promotion battles during his time at Barnsley. Picture: GettyToby Sibbick was involved in both relegation and promotion battles during his time at Barnsley. Picture: Getty
Toby Sibbick was involved in both relegation and promotion battles during his time at Barnsley. Picture: Getty

“If you're fighting for relegation it can obviously cost a lot of people their jobs so it isn't nice. With Europe, it's something that we all tasted this season and want to get again next season.

“It's not nice being in relegation fights where people get sacked and people lose their jobs. Sometimes people just look at it as football, but when you've actually worked with people and been with them through a tough season, to see them go at the end is not nice.

"For us this is a positive pressure. We're looking forward to it.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While they've only got one win from three, the Hearts squad have responded positively to interim boss Steven Naismith since he replaced Robbie Neilson. There was the 6-1 win over Ross County, while Hearts were the better team in the first half against champions Celtic before Alex Cochrane’s harsh sending off changed the game.

Regardless of whether he manages to salvage the club’s bid for the group stages, or whether he stays on as boss, Sibbick is backing Naismith to have a successful career in management, a feeling which goes back to their playing days together.

“As a player he was a leader. I remember watching him in the Premiership and playing alongside him, he’s got real leadership qualities,” said the defender.

“As a manager, the players are all enjoying his sessions and his attention to detail on opponents. He’ll be a top manager if he wants to become one.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Everyone has their own goals and his ambition might be to manage here or elsewhere. But right now we all have the same goals – to win our remaining games. We’re not looking to next season as we are in the now – which is St Mirren."

After some chopping and changing in Neilson’s final matches, which saw Sibbick drop out of the team as the previous boss searched in vain for the right formula to turn things around, Naismith has gone with a settled centre-back pairing for each of his three matches. This saw Sibbick return to the side to partner Kye Rowles.

“It’s a nice feeling when you are settled because it’s tough being in and out of the team,” said Sibbick.

“It really helps with the match sharpness. The manager has been brilliant since he came in, he’s spoken to all of us individually and told us what he wants.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Players are getting more of a chance and are coming out of their shells to show fans who they really are. It’s been good.”

Message from the editor

Thank you for reading this article. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our sports coverage with a digital sports subscription.