Players and management will hold talks on the matter in the coming days after fans called on their team to accept medals but refuse the silverware when it is presented this weekend. The anger in Gorgie remains fierce after last year’s controversial enforced relegation, which ended up in Edinburgh’s Court of Session.
Hearts still firmly believe they were unjustly treated by the Scottish Professional Football League as the 2019/20 campaign was not completed because of the Covid 19 pandemic. They were sent down to the Championship and, having now won that division, are due to receive the trophy in what is their final home fixture.
Some supporters feel rejecting the award would be an appropriate retort to SPFL officials involved in the voting debacle which ultimately ended in Hearts’ demotion. Players and management at Riccarton say they have not yet broached the subject as they concentrate on Tuesday night’s visit to Morton first.
“It's not something we've discussed at all. We're really trying to focus the players on making sure we win at Cappielow,” said manager Robbie Neilson. “Already people are talking about what we're going to do next year, in this game or that game or with the squad.
“We're at Hearts, we lost two games on the bounce and there was a lot of negativity. We've got three games to go and first and foremost Tuesday night is one we have to go and win to set us up for the game on Saturday. I haven't discussed it with the players and they haven't discussed it amongst themselves.”
Midfielder Aaron McEneff reiterated that viewpoint when asked for the players’ thoughts on the #LeaveItOnTheStand campaign. “I've seen a few things said about that on social media. I wasn't at the club last year when certain things happened,” said the Irishman, bought from Shamrock Rovers during this year’s winter transfer window.
“As players, all our focus at the minute is on the Morton game. As the week goes on, I'm sure that's something which will be spoken about. As a group, we haven't spoken about it at the moment.”
The Morton match is Hearts’ first since confirmation of their impending Premiership return. They beat Alloa 6-0 a week past Friday and were confirmed as Championship winners the following day when both Dundee and Raith Rovers failed to win.
McEneff scored his first goal for the Edinburgh club in that Alloa rout and explained that the pull of Scotland’s top flight was a major factor in his decision to join Hearts.
“It was a massive draw for me coming here and promotion was always the target for the club. To get over the line was great and I am really looking forward to next season,” he said. “Hearts are a massive club in Scottish football and they don't belong in the Championship.
“I was sitting watching the scores when it was confirmed we were champions. It was strange but it also happened to me last season when I won the league with Shamrock Rovers. Now it has happened again in the space of a few months. We could have maybe done it sooner but now we can look forward to the last three games.
“It was brilliant to get my first goal and hopefully that will be the first of many. I think it was probably my best performance and I enjoyed playing in the central role. I described myself as a box-to-box midfielder when I came here and I think I showed that [against Alloa].
“Hopefully, that is something I can now build from and keep on improving. Getting that first goal is always something you want to do. I was frustrated it didn't come before but I just kept my head down.”
McEneff also hopes to nurture his central midfield partnership with Peter Haring. “You can see Pete's a good player. He has more of a defensive side to his game than I do. I thought the balance worked well against Alloa,” he added.
“It's not down to any player to pick the team but I'm sure the coaching staff and the gaffer felt it worked well that night and we'll see how it goes moving forward.”
Whatever decision Hearts reach regarding the Championship trophy, their fans will not be present to witness it. The ongoing ban on crowds at outdoor events means titles across the globe will be wrapped up behind closed doors.
“When you win trophies in football you want fans, family and friends to be in the stadium,” said McEneff. “That is not the case now and that sort of feeling has been taken away. It has been taken away from sports around the world.
“Players thrive on fans being in the stadium and having that atmosphere. You see a lot more competitive football matches when fans are in the stadium.”
A small number of Hearts fans were not inside but outside Tynecastle last month staging a protest against the running of their club. “I know there are expectations at big clubs throughout the world,” said McEneff.
“We had a few bad results in previous weeks and as players we have to look at ourselves at times. Maybe you can do better and you should do better in certain circumstances. Fans have a certain expectation at big clubs and they have a right to be angry sometimes. We have to take that on the chin as players.
“We've got the league over the line and had a good win against Alloa. Hopefully we can build on that and put in a good shift in these last three games, then look to next year because it's a whole new challenge.”