Hearts have been backed to finish their season with a flourish even though European football has already been secured.
The Tynecastle side are guaranteed a top-three finish for the first time in five years after last week’s draw at Inverness killed off any chance of being caught by this weekend’s opponents Motherwell.
Hearts now enter their five post-split fixtures with a 16-point advantage over fourth-place Well and are eight points adrift of second-place Aberdeen, so look destined to finish third. However, Jim Jefferies, the last man to manage a Hearts side to third place, does not envisage the current team taking their foot off the gas.
“I’m sure Hearts will be well satisfied with their season, but everyone will want to finish with a flourish and go off on a high for the summer,” Jefferies told the Evening News. “Hearts will want to keep it going, and while it’s still mathematically possible, they’ll still be trying to catch Aberdeen. That’ll be their target. All football players have bonuses to play for as well. Professional footballers want to win every game, so they’ll not be downing tools.”
The team Jefferies led to third place in 2010/11 ended the season in underwhelming fashion. After challenging Celtic and Rangers at the top of the table until late January, a side containing the likes of Rudi Skacel, Andy Webster, David Templeton and Ryan Stevenson finished with only one win in their closing 11 games. The former Hearts manager admits it can be hard to keep players up to their task when they are so far ahead of the chasing pack, but he doesn’t expect Robbie Neilson’s team to let their campaign fizzle out.
“Subconsciously teams can become a bit more relaxed and not as concentrated at this stage of the season,” he said. “It’s not intentional though. You look at Dunfermline, for example. They’ve had a great season and then, after winning League One, they go down to Stranraer and lose 4-1 last weekend.
“No-one would have expected that, but I think sometimes after a team has achieved their objective, they lose a wee edge.
“I don’t think that will happen with Hearts, though, because, even though it’s a tall order, they still have the incentive of trying to catch Aberdeen.
“Hearts have got nothing to lose just now. They can try and catch Aberdeen. But if there comes a point when they can’t catch them, I’d imagine Robbie would want to blood one or two more youngsters or fringe men and try one or two things out with next season in mind. It’s a good position for them to be in.”