A victory for us tomorrow is an absolute must. Going into this week we needed a minimum of four points from the games against Partick Thistle and Hearts. We only drew with Thistle at the weekend so we have to get a win tomorrow to push us a bit further away from the bottom of the table. We have tough league games against Celtic and Aberdeen in the next few weeks and they probably won't yield a great deal, so if we can get a win tomorrow then it would allow us a bit of breathing space.
This game has been arranged at pretty short notice. We knew months ago that Hearts were in the semi-finals of the League Cup and we wouldn't be playing them this weekend, so why did it take until eight days before the match for the game to be scheduled? Quite simply it's because Ryan Stevenson got himself a two match ban and would have missed Hearts' big game. Playing tomorrow frees him up for that. It's pretty sneaky stuff and I'm slightly disappointed we agreed to be part of it, especially after Hearts refusing to move a game five years ago. It's also pretty poor that Hearts are still charging full whack despite less than two week's notice.
The fact Stevenson is missing should be a boost for us, but these are the sort of circumstances we usually mess up in. Hearts are struggling, with Gary Locke constantly whining about how unfair it is he's being forced to play the kids - although they did beat Ross County on Saturday. With their semi-final coming up at the weekend their minds may be elsewhere and for most teams it would be a straightforward three points. However, we're not most teams - as was shown at the end of last year when Hearts ended their poor run of form by getting a well deserved draw against us. This is a great chance to get three points in our battle to beat the drop, but we cannot afford to take anything for granted.
Will we change things about after Saturday's draw against Thistle? Probably not - as we don't have too many other options. Steven Thompson could probably do with a rest but we have no one else, Stephane Bahoken not good enough to lead the line if he is fit. Adam Campbell isn't right physically to play through the middle on his own so is likely to be out wide again, although Conor Newton could come in and take over from him there. With Kenny McLean and Gary Teale out and no more signings there's not much else that can be done.
Hopefully our defence will once again be solid tomorrow. It looked fairly good against the Jags on Saturday - although they are one of the lowest scores in the division - and Jim Goodwin had a terrific game playing in front of it. He avoided a booking, which is a change, but seemed more reliable than normal. We need him to play like that more often. Marian Kello had sod all to do and it would be nice if he could keep another clean sheet on his old stomping ground.
The chances of Hearts upsetting the odds and avoiding finishing bottom of the Premiership are now looking pretty slim. In the opening stages of the season it looked as if they'd have a shot, however as they started getting injuries and suspensions they understandably began to struggle. There is talk they may be able to sneak some more players in, which shouldn't be allowed to happen, however if they do manage to do that it'll be after we've played them. Hopefully it'll work in our favour and the more experienced players will hurt our rivals before the split! Of course, Hearts aren't giving up and they do show plenty of grit and determination as they try to pull off the impossible and finally made it into positive figures on Saturday.
There will be even fewer experienced men playing for Hearts tomorrow with Stevenson's suspension for trying to fight half the St Johnstone team the other week. That leaves them with just Danny Wilson, Jamie MacDonald and Jamie Hamill. They shouldn't even have Wilson, as he was only on loan last season before the Jambos managed to circumvent the rules to get him. The three are doing their best to help the kids out - although Wilson isn't exactly an old head himself - and MacDonald has made some good saves, while Hamill scored a screamer against us the last time we played them.
It's probably just as well he has scored a few as none of Hearts' players have been particularly prolific. That's not really a surprise as it's often been the case in the last few years, previous managers even managing to turn John Sutton into a non-goal scoring striker. In the past the likes of Stevenson and Rudi Skacel have scored plenty but it's hard to remember the last free-scoring Hearts forward. In that regard, and with the other problems, Callum Paterson's contribution of five goals isn't too bad - especially as he's not really a striker. Dale Carrick, Billy King and David Smith help out when they can but more often than not Paterson is on his own.
Stevenson isn't the only midfielder out tomorrow as Jason Holt is still injured, while Swansea look set to sign Adam King - although he might end up spending the rest of the season at Tynecastle anyway. Jamie Walker looks a real prospect and will surely be the next one to move on, although Callum Tapping and Scott Robinson are arguably still a wee bit away from that at the moment. Dylan McGowan can play in midfield or defence and Sam Nicholson is also forcing his way into the picture – either that or Locke has run out of kids to play!
He has a few more of them in defence though and at times their inexperience has really shone through as they have made some rather basic errors. Kevin McHattie looks like he could have a decent future at leftback but is having to develop in the first team and may end up paying for that. One of Brad McKay and Jordan McGhee is usually used to play alongside Wilson, with Hamill or McGowan at rightback.
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