THERE was a moment in the closing minutes of the game at Tynecastle the other night when Aberdeen's Shay Logan had the ball and Callum Paterson raced across the pitch to close him down.
The young Hearts lad didn't move like a professional athlete: the effort was wild and superhuman, like a sprinter whose body shape goes when he lunges at the finishing line, or a parent racing to save a toddler on a busy road.
Logan got the ball away and the moment in itself was inconsequential, but, boy, Paterson's raw desperation to get there showed the fire that's still blazing inside the Hearts players right now. They are fighting and scrapping against the dying of the light. There are managers - and fans - the length and breadth of the country who would kill to see their team give the effort these Hearts players are putting in.
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It is a collective act of defiance from the condemned. No-one around the club is deluding themselves that some sort of miracle is unfolding. Hearts' relegation probably will be confirmed by tea-time tomorrow. They play Partick Thistle at Firhill while St Mirren are at home to Motherwell. If there are two away wins in those games the plug still will not have been pulled on the life support machine and Hearts will have the token satisfaction of surviving until the SPFL Premiership's split. But that is far easier said than done for a team who have won only two of their 16 away games in the league.
At home they have produced some minor heroics by beating Hibs and drawing with Aberdeen in the space of four days. Defeat in either game would have sent them down but they played as if determined to respect and repay their supporters. It was as if they were saying "when we go down, it won't be because we've lost at home again in front of you guys". Hibs and Aberdeen supporters came to gloat and neither was given the satisfaction they wanted.
The final Edinburgh derby - of this season and the foreseeable future - is on Sunday April 27. Hearts would need to win both their games, and St Mirren lose all three of theirs before that date, for that game to be the one where the coup de grace could be delivered at Easter Road. Over the past 10 league games no club has taken fewer points than St Mirren (just five from a possible 30, Hearts themselves have taken 12 over the same period) yet it is difficult to believe Danny Lennon's players will lose to Motherwell and Hibs at home and then away to Partick Thistle.
The Hearts players haven't been good enough for the Premiership. They would be bottom of the table even without the 15-point deduction applied for going into administration last June. The signing embargo applied last summer is what really saw them off. Sheer will secured them their point against Aberdeen, they were on the back foot for long spells of the match and their play was riddled with poor control, poor passing and poor decision-making. It was significant that when manager Gary Locke was pouring praise over them after the match the qualities he highlighted were their application, their strength and their physicality.
But he did also say "they're all certainly better players than the ones that started the season". When the trapdoor eventually opens beneath them, they will get a standing ovation from their supporters.