JIM JEFFERIES insisted today that if the battle to avoid relegation came down simply to effort and determination, his Dunfermline players would be head and shoulders above the rest.
The new Pars manager has only had two games with his squad since taking over from Jim McIntyre but has already seen enough in that time to be convinced that, on attitude alone, his team deserve to be in a better position than they currently find themselves.
The fight to stay up has come down to a two-way battle with Hibs – with the East End Park outfit looking like odds-on favourites to take the drop to the First Division.
Their task was made even more difficult when they fell six points behind Hibs at the weekend after their defeat to Dundee United was followed up 24 hours later by a victory for Pat Fenlon’s men in Inverness on Sunday.
And Jefferies knows that Dunfermline’s result this Saturday, against his old side Hearts at East End Park, will prove pivotal to their entire season.
Insisting that there will be no favours expected, or given, by either side, Jefferies said: “In the two games that I have been in charge, the players have given me absolutely everything, so if it comes down to spirit and effort, then we have got a good chance.
“We have got this target, if you like, to get as many points in the bag at home as we can and we know that, if we win, then it doesn’t matter what happens anywhere else.
“But we know that we are up against a side who are, on their day, a very good side. They have got their own agenda because they’re looking to get as high up the league as possible and into one of the European places if they can. So there’ll be no favours for us.
“We have just got to concentrate on ourselves and make sure that we make it as tough as possible for Hearts. Hopefully, we can get the points that are required.”
The post-split fixtures which were released earlier this week have deemed that Hibs won’t meet Dunfermline until the second-last game of the season – the match on a Monday night to suit the television schedule.
Jefferies admitted that he would have liked to have played the game earlier but says it won’t take anything away from what is at stake, adding: “I suppose they’re hoping that the fight against relegation will go right to the end of the season, and, obviously, so do I.
“It would have been better if the two sides could have come up against one another a bit sooner but that’s football for you and you’ve just got to take what comes.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to play one another at some stage so it shouldn’t really make too much difference when it is.
“You’ve got to focus on each game as it comes and make sure that you have got as many points on the board as you possibly can.”
Jefferies has a long and proud history with Hearts, having made more than 300 competitive appearances for the club, as well as managing them on two separate occasions.
With the outcome of the upcoming game having such an impact on events in the Capital though, Jefferies is keen to stress that he is simply focusing on his own side’s fortunes and not those of his former team or their bitter rivals.
He’s simply determined to make as good a fist of the fight to stay up as is humanly possible: “I’ve been asked about this a couple of times and I can honestly say that there is no bitterness there.
“I still have good relationships with people connected with the club and, at the end of the day, I am now only concerned with Dunfermline.
“I’m looking forward to the game and I’m sure that the Hearts players and the Hearts supporters know that there is no animosity or bitterness involved on either side.
“I’ve been in this situation before I went back the second time and I want people to know that it doesn’t mean any more to me to get a victory over them because of the way that I left.”
However, he conceded that the Hearts support themselves probably won’t be too upset if the Pars do manage to bag all three points on Saturday, because it would keep Hibs in the fight at the bottom: “I am only concentrating on getting the best result for Dunfermline, although I wish Hearts all the best and I would like to see them go on to success in the league and in the Scottish Cup as well.
“As far as Saturday is concerned, you have just got to go out there and be professional and try to get the win – and I’m sure the Hearts supporters will not be too disappointed if they do lose!”
If anyone has a chance of upsetting the apple cart against Paulo Sergio’s men though, it is surely Jefferies, who has worked closely with the entire Hearts squad.
His most recent spell at Tynecastle came to an end last year – just two games into the current season – and Jefferies is hoping that his inside knowledge will give Dunfermline the edge this weekend: “I know the players well enough but Hearts have got a lot of options available to them and obviously they have got the Cup semi-final the following week, so you just don’t know what team will put out.
“They’re a good team but, at the end of the day, there is no point in us worrying about that if we don’t keep up our end of the bargain. It’s all about just concentrating on what we can do, although we know that it will be tough.”