Hearts head to Motherwell today looking to strengthen their grip on second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership and edge closer to leaders Celtic in doing so.
In contrast, their hosts occupy the play-off berth in 11th.
Off the field, the ambitions of the two clubs are more in tune. Both are working towards fan ownership, which is being celebrated at Fir Park this afternoon. The Foundation of Hearts enjoy monthly pledges from some 8000 members and will take ownership of the club in a little under four years once owner Anne Budge’s initial outlay is repaid. The Well Society have a similar aim in mind with the support of backer Les Hutchison.
With a long-term succession plan in place and revenue given a healthy boost, Hearts boss Robbie Neilson has had the perfect platform to make similar progress on the pitch.
“It’s been a great 18 months for the club,” he said. “After the dark days of administration, Ann took over and the backing of the Foundation of Hearts has been amazing. The pledges and money coming in has sustained us and got us to where we are, if that wasn’t there then the club probably wouldn’t be here.
“Off the pitch, the progress has not surprised me. Ann came in and she has a wonderful pedigree in business, she is a successful businesswoman and I knew she would build the club.
“On the pitch, we are probably ahead of schedule. The players we have brought in have done great for us. We have been promoted at the first time of asking when the plan was two years; a year ahead of schedule. We are now sitting second in the league, which is two or three years ahead of schedule. But we need to sustain that.”
The Jambos will sport a new-look when they take to the Fir Park pitch at 3pm. The players will wear the special Foundation of Hearts third kit featuring the names of supporters who pledged money on a monthly basis. Neilson wants to do them proud with by winning three points, literally, in their name.
“It is a great day for the fans but we want to win,” he said. “We are going to Fir Park, proudly wearing the strip and hopefully we can get the three points. It is an additional incentive for the players, something we have spoken about.
“We have been wearing it this week in preparation. There are a lot of fans putting money in – money they can hardly afford in some cases – and it’s important the players realise that today.”
Training in it highlights the fine details Neilson works to. “It’s for familiarity, they have not worn it before, it’s a different colour and different style and it’s just to make sure they are used to it. Fir Park is a different environment that a lot of the players haven’t been in, and then wearing a new strip; we just want to be as prepared as we can be.”
There is a clear sense of togetherness between the fans and the club, but Neilson also explained how bonds have been strengthened internally, with staff and players getting together at Tynecastle every Friday. “It’s something we spoke about,” he admitted. “The problem we had previously is we had the office staff and people working at the stadium at Tynecastle, then the playing side of things at Riccarton. The only time we spoke to each other was when there was a conflict!
“Ann and I decided everyone should get together on Friday for a lunch and a chat. I do things I think are right and the way I think the players will respond to. Ultimately, the players are the ones who need to do it and win football matches for you.”
Neilson also revealed that two of his charges are likely to be around for such lunches on a longer term basis, with new contracts imminent. “We are looking good,” he said. ”[Arnaud] Djoum and [Igor] Rossi are both agreed, we just need to get it signed, but until it’s done: we shall see.
“I’m happy with those guys. Some guys have two or three agents and you are working through a few people, so it can take a little bit of time. We’ll start negotiations with [Miguel] Pallardo and couple of others soon.”