HEARTS are perched on the edge like a sweating bungee jumper, but it's guts, not nerves, that are stopping them from going over the edge.
Whatever else can be said of the group of players which eventually will be relegated, no-one could accuse them of lacking sheer bloody-minded resilience.
Last night Aberdeen were rushing them headlong towards the defeat which would have formally condemned them to next season's Championship. A goal down with four minutes left, and a man down after captain Danny Wilson was sent-off, and they still refused to buckle.
Hibs came to bury them on Sunday and failed, and so did Aberdeen. Willo Flood hit a free-kick which seemed to kick up and beat Jamie MacDonald to find the net in the second half and for 12 minutes Hearts were heading down. They scrapped like tigers to save themselves, for a few more days at least, and when their feverish attacks resulted in a penalty, Jamie Hamill buried it.
The draw left them 18 points behind St Mirren with 18 to play for, so it cannot be more than a rage against the dying of the light, but they celebrated it as another rich display of defiance. Aberdeen could only see the night as two points dropped. They returned to second place, ahead of Motherwell on goal difference, but given their dominance of the first half and their winning position going into the dying minutes, a draw felt unsatisfying.
Tynecastle's Roseburn Stand may as well be reclassified as a bird sanctuary: for the second time in four days it was populated by vultures sensing an easy kill. The Aberdeen support came to see their own team and to see Hearts buried, just as the Hibs fans had done in Sunday's derby. The chants, again, were of the variety that got Leigh Griffiths into bother with Vincent Lunny and the SFA.
Derek McInnes has turned Aberdeen into a tough, relentless team. Even when their attacks don't click and they cannot get enough supply to Adam Rooney, their primary goalscorer, they chase, harry and worry opponents. Their pace allows them to be a dangerous counter-attacking side but here they pressed Hearts so high up the pitch they were harassing their full-backs into mistakes and giving possession away.
The result was a first half of grinding Aberdeen pressure which kept Hearts on the back foot without yielding many chances. When Hearts tried to earn a reprieve they gave the ball away in midfield and Aberdeen washed towards them again.
Peter Pawlett was back after a hip injury. He moved free and fast, and survived a robust kick to the ankle from Wilson. Pawlett, too, is key to Aberdeen's pressing game. When opponents feel they have another second or two to pick a pass or make a clearance, his acceleration means he has quickly chased them down, often forcing them into mistakes.
Hearts threatened Jamie Langfield only when David Smith's free-kick flew across the Aberdeen box, inviting a touch from Ryan Stevenson or Dylan McGowan but receiving neither. The Aberdeen goalkeeper was unceremoniously dumped on his backside by a goalmouth shoulder charge from Paul McCallum which was about 60 years too late to be considered acceptable by any referee.It was his last act of the night, decided not by referee Kevin Clancy but his own manager Gary Locke, who took him off and put Scott Robinson into midfield as Stevenson took over as their sole striker.
Hearts had more joy in choking Aberdeen and winning a far higher share of balls in midfield although poor control and passing let them down.
Callum Paterson struck one terrific shot which brought a fine save from Langfield for a corner. With Aberdeen's forward players seeing a little less of the ball, Barry Robson risked taking a mid-game toilet break, racing up the tunnel and re-emerging a couple of minutes later, to the amusement of the away support.
Umpteen contributory factors had taken Hearts to the brink and, for a few tense minutes, it seemed that the final one, the one which would nudge them over the edge, was a silly little act of indiscipline. Wilson had been booked in the first half and when Rooney got ahead of him he held his shirt to pull him back. It was a nothing little foul, but a clear second caution and a red card. It was also a free-kick just outside the box. Flood's drive seemed to deceive MacDonald and he was beaten to his right. As it stood, Hearts were relegated.
Stevenson might have equalised but his shot was poor and, at that moment, it appeared Hearts' top-flight status was lost. They fought like devils to get another chance, though, and with four minutes left it came. Shaleum Logan's clumsy challenge on Paterson was asking for trouble and Tynecastle erupted when Kevin Clancy pointed to the penalty spot. Hamill rammed it past Langfield, calm as you like.
Niall McGinn reloaded the exectioners' gun and should have put Aberdeen back ahead, but he squirted a late chance wide. Tynecastle had seen enough drama for the night. As it emptied, the faithful held their heads high.