THE cliché about taking it one game at a time has a different meaning where Hearts are concerned.
Such is the perilous state of finances at Tynecastle that only the most optimistic or brazen would deem to take a long-term view. Hearts must pay a tax bill of £450,000 by December 3, are in dispute with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over a charge of £1.7m, are £22m in debt, and are operating with an annual funding gap of £2m. Were it not for the generosity of their supporters and their players, who agreed to defer their November salaries, the club may not have survived to play Saturday's match against St Mirren.
The fans' uptake of more than £500,000-worth of shares should take care of the most immediate tax liability and allow this week to be relatively stress free ahead of Saturday's match against Motherwell.
Beyond that, though, is anyone's guess. News that Hearts have been in discussions with Supporters Direct and Angelo Massone would suggest that their Lithuanian owners have finally realised it is time to let someone else have a go. Whoever is in charge over the next year or two, however, will need to oversee a period of fairly brutal austerity measures. Hearts' wage bill is like an anchor round the club's neck and key earners will need to be sold or moved on in January, and again in the summer, to bring costs more in line with revenue.
A crowd of 16,500 on Saturday saw Hearts win 1-0 courtesy of a deflected Danny Grainger free-kick. Of the home team's starting line-up, three were teenagers, while six were aged 25 or younger. This, presumably, was John McGlynn shaking things up after a run of one win from six league matches, rather than the manager making any great statement. But in the performances of Jamie Walker, Dylan McGowan and Jason Holt – who all made first competitive home starts – there was plenty to reassure Hearts supporters, should the club survive.
Holt, in particular, stood out in an advanced midfield role. Still just 19, his displays with the Hearts under-20 side and on loan last season at Raith Rovers have helped catapult him into the Scotland under-21 side and now into the first-team squad at Tynecastle.
A lifelong Hearts supporter from Musselburgh, he has been as concerned as anyone about recent developments.
"I think it's absolutely fantastic what the fans and the backroom staff behind the scenes have been doing," he said. "The fans were brilliant [on Saturday] and we can't thank them enough. We all heard as well the talk that this could have been the club's last ever game but we tried to keep our heads on the football side and do our job. Hearts is one of the biggest clubs in the country so the whole of Scottish football would lose out if Hearts went. But we're just trying to think positively.
"All my uncles are season-ticket holders so they've been buying into everything that the fans have been doing and I think it's fantastic. Everyone's rallied round and done a great job. When we were out there before the game to thank them and they were standing applauding us back – you can't really ask for any more.
"The future of the club is really bright – we've got a lot of good young players. If you're good enough, the gaffer is going to play you. The chance is there for everyone."
For St Mirren, there seems no end in sight to their losing streak. This was a sixth successive loss and a result that left them perilously close to the foot of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. Defeat by Dundee on Saturday would send them rock bottom.
"We're all hurting and share every emotion of the fans," said manager Danny Lennon. "We're all in this together. We go into a very important game against Dundee, and only one point separates the teams, and it's going to be like a cup final. There's a lot riding on it."
19' Danny Grainger's free-kick is saved by the knees of Craig Samson.
64' 1-0 Another Grainger free-kick is deflected beyond the goalkeeper.
78' Marc McAusland's goalbound header is scooped off the line by Jason Holt.