The intrigue surrounding whether Hearts will accept the Championship trophy tomorrow or leave it on the stand is growing. Players are discussing the issue in a meeting at training today, with many fans asking them to accept medals but reject the silverware.
No-one in Gorgie needs reminding that this situation stems from last year’s enforced relegation following a vote by Scottish Professional Football League member clubs. The integrity of the whole process was compromised when the SPFL chose to publish the result of the poll before receiving all votes.
Hearts were ultimately demoted and their anger at the outcome has not subsided. Captain Steven Naismith was asked by the Evening News about the dilemma facing players and staff ahead of tomorrow’s match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“In all honesty, I don't know what's going to happen. The club are still talking about it,” he said. “I know they've been talking to the league and the different bodies. Personally, I can't emphasise enough that we are all in the same position in terms of the fact we shouldn't have been here.
"On top of that, you have to respect the teams we have played against this season who have tried to beat us to the title. Plus all these players who have been professional and worked their hardest throughout the season.
"You have to show respect to certain parts of the division, but on the other side we shouldn't have been here. We've done our job and that's it. To answer your question, I don't know as yet. The club are aware of everything and I'm sure we will make the right call.”
Ticked the box
As skipper, it would be Naismith’s job to lift the trophy. He is now 34 and recently began coaching Hearts Under-18s having ticked the box of helping the club achieve promotion back to Scotland’s top flight.
It certainly wasn’t a straightforward task. “It's been about getting the job done,” explained Naismith. “From last summer we were massive favourites and had the best squad, so we had to do the job.
“There were elements of enjoyment. We had the Scottish Cup semi-final and final to look forward to. In most league games, we were dominating the ball. Those have been encouraging parts but overall it's about getting back to the Premiership.
“Not much more needs to be said on the back of last year. We shouldn't have been here but we have done the job. What can't be underestimated is that the boys have played with that pressure all season.
“We are the favourites. Yes, there were moments at the start of the season when other teams started well, then media and pundits suggested we wouldn't get it our own way. We didn't feel we would get it our own way but we knew what we had to do and we've done it. We got good wins at important times during the season.”
Hearts now have two games remaining – Inverness at home tomorrow and then Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park next Friday night. They need to deliver convincing performances and results to end the season on a relative high.
Tuesday night’s goalless draw with Morton at Cappielow Park left many uninspired, if the truth be told. Regardless whether they accept or reject the award for winning the division, the players at Tynecastle require a strong display against Inverness.
“Yes, 100 per cent. No matter what, the element of winning is always there. Every successful team I've played in, come the tail end of season when you are close to winning, you have to enjoy that. You need to play with a freedom,” said Naismith.
Play with an enjoyment
“We showed that against Alloa in the game that ultimately won us the league. It's now about going and doing that again. Tuesday night made it difficult with the pitch, 100 per cent. Saturday is a home game and we know the surface is going to be great.
“It's familiar surroundings so it's definitely an occasion the boys need to enjoy and also put on a performance.
“On Tuesday, the pitch was dry and we were up against a team who were compact and well-organised. Morton are fighting for their lives while we have won the league, so a mixture of everything made it difficult.
“We need to play with an enjoyment. That's something we have probably lacked this season. It comes from every team sitting in against us. It's tough to deal with and you always have one eye on them counter-attacking you. We've won the league so in the last couple of games we've got to make sure we do play with a freedom.”
There should, in theory, be no shortage of motivation for any player at Hearts right now. Whilst many are out of contract next month and potentially playing to earn a new deal, others cannot consider themselves safe simply because they have a longer-term agreement tucked away in the filing cabinet.
Manager Robbie Neilson and his coaching staff along with sporting director Joe Savage are working on another extensive recruitment drive for the summer months. The intention is to ensure Hearts are properly prepared with sufficient quality and guile for the Premiership challenges awaiting them.
So the incentive for all would appear to be clear. “It's about personal achievements for everybody from now until the end of the season. Simple as that,” said Naismith. “Some boys are playing for contracts. We have to use that to put on the performances we want.”