MOMENTUM belongs to Hearts for the forthcoming Edinburgh derby, but can they push Hibs further towards the relegation play-off place?
It’s clearly a prospect the Tynecastle players are relishing after winning their third game in four. Whilst Ross County were dispatched 2-0 in Gorgie on Saturday, St Mirren recorded the same scoreline in Paisley to leave Hibs in freefall.
Sunday sees the Capital clubs meet for the final time this season, and possibly the last time for a while given Hearts are relegated to the Championship. Taking Hibs with them is clearly a source of motivation within the camp, as winger Sam Nicholson alluded to. He produced another impressive display against County and was then asked about the extra spice surrounding this weekend’s visit to Easter Road.
“We’re going out to win anyway but it would be a wee bit better if we brought them down with us,” he said.
“They’ll come out the traps because they’ll need to win so it should be a good game. It’s a derby and it can go either way. It would be good for the club and the fans if we did that but we’re not going out to intentionally hurt them. We’re not thinking we want to relegate them, although it would be good if we brought them down with us.”
With six days to go until the match, Nicholson thought nothing of lighting the blue touch paper early. Yet one of Hearts’ most competitive players, Jamie Hamill, will be missing. He is suspended after a needless red card against County.
The midfielder scored the opening goal from the penalty spot after Kevin McHattie was fouled by Graham Carey on 65 minutes. Hamill rammed the ball high into the net then carried it off down the touchline for no apparent reason.
With County players growing angry at the delay, he finally released it upon reaching the visitors’ technical area before barging into Ross County manager Derek Adams, who then indulged in an exaggerated fall to the ground.
That prompted a multi-player rammy before referee Willie Collum produced a second yellow card and a red for Hamill. He had been cautioned 15 minutes earlier for a late tackle on Michael Tidser. Yann Songo’o, the County centre-back, was also booked and restrained as he tried to get at Hamill.
“There were that many bodies in front of me that I would have to have a look at it again. It seemed to be handbags but I will have to have a look at it again because, if it’s a sending off, it’s going to be costly,” said the Hearts manager, Gary Locke.
“He’ll miss the next game for sure. I’ll have to see what Willie puts in his report.
“I’ve not spoken to Jamie. I think he’s disappointed, the fact he’s been sent off. I was on the pitch trying to calm everyone down. For me it was unnecessary, it was pretty stupid. We were just trying to calm our players down and make sure most of them behaved themselves, and thankfully most of them did that.”
Adams refused to comment on the incident. He possibly knew his fall was avoidable, although that is no defence of Hamill’s actions.
Richard Brittain, the Ross County captain, said: “I thought it was much ado about nothing. You’re not supposed to run away with the ball under your jersey and the referee is following the letter of the law. There were a lot of tempers fraying but there’s no point losing the head.
“I don’t want to comment on opposing players. They do what they do and we do what we do.”
After a fairly uneventful first half, Ross County seized the initiative after the interval and looked dangerous. Locke then replaced Ryan Stevenson with Jamie Walker – making his first competitive appearance in three months – and Hearts took control. The penalty was supplemented by a classy late second from the irrepressible Dale Carrick to give the hosts victory.
It topped off a monumental week at Tynecastle after Hearts’ administrators BDO secured a deal for 80 per cent of the club’s shares from their Lithuanian parent companies, thus avoiding liquidation.
“It’s good getting a win straight after good news,” said Nicholson. “Last time we beat Hibs then we got bad news after that [as the prospect of liquidation came sharply into focus]. After being relegated, it shows we’re still fighting for it. The fans have been really good this season and they deserve it. This is a hard league and it’s really physical. I’m still getting knocked off the ball but the gaffer is telling us to keep going.
“It’s taken a long time for players to improve. I’d put myself in that category as well. A lot of the boys are roughly my age or a year older and it’s taken time for us to get used to this standard. We’re beginning to get results although it might be a bit too late. We might not have had this chance if the club was fine and we didn’t have administration.
“It is hard knowing the state the club was in. The older boys have a stronger mindset than us and they’ve told us to keep focused and look at the games. I’m out of contract this summer. I’d be happy to stay but for the last few games we’re just targeting a few wins and then we’ll see when the new owner comes in.”
Adams did offer praise for the young Hearts players as his team found themselves in the relegation play-off spot they are so desperately trying to avoid. “Even first half and both teams cancelled each other out. I thought the penalty was a bit soft. Hearts got the goal and something to hang on to,” he said.
“At the penalty, it was a tackle and I felt the player went down slowly. I don’t know if it was a foul or not. I thought Willie took his time to make the decision. We then put a lot of pressure on Hearts. We should’ve scored and had chances to score but didn’t take them. We didn’t have the enthusiasm and the tempo that Hearts did. I thought Hearts were excellent and I’m very disappointed for our fans.”