The 2013/14 season will always be darkened by the realities of administration and then relegation for Hearts, but Gary Locke has at least begun to see the lighter side.

As the Edinburgh side prepare for their penultimate league fixture of the campaign, the Hearts manager gave a glowing account of the efforts of his youngest players. A few will be on show again tonight.

That will be in a home match with Partick Thistle, a team who are still at risk of stumbling into the league's relegation play-off spot. The name of the club which will be made to fight for top-flight survival later this month can still only be speculated on and it would seem fitting, then, that Locke indulge in something similar.

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Hearts are down, yet had a 15-point deduction not been imposed on them then, on current form at least, the Tynecastle side would be sitting in eighth in the table and relatively free from harm.

"With the 15 points we would have been safe at the moment so the boys here deserve enormous credit," said the Hearts manager. "That would have been phenomenal considering the youthfulness of the team and the fact that most of them hadn't played first-team football. It is all about the players and they have been a credit to themselves.

"It shows that they have improved over the course of the season. The reason we didn't play like this earlier in the season is that a lot of the boys weren't physically ready to play first-team football.

"The young players are fitter, stronger and more confident and we have the experienced players available. Earlier in the season we lost Ryan [Stevenson] and that was a huge loss. I think we are a far better team, all the players have improved."

Gary Fraser has been determined to better himself this season too. The Partick Thistle midfielder - who made a loan move from Bolton Wanderers permanent in January - was given a nine-match suspension earlier in the campaign for violent conduct. He clashed with Chris Kane of Dunfermline Athletic during an under-20s game in October.

Fraser has sought redemption at Firhill since then and has worked his way into the first team. He is eager to repay the faith shown in him by manager Alan Archibald. "The gaffer and Scotty [assistant manager Scott Paterson] gave me my chance and they have believed in me. I couldn't thank them any more for that," said the midfielder.

"Because of the ban, people might have been a wee bit wary about it, but they brought me right back straight away. People who weren't even there said different things and made [his conduct towards Kane] worse than what it was. But I knew the manager knew it wasn't that bad. That's all behind me now, it's in the past and I've moved on miles."