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Dan but not out: Wilson ready for relegation but hopes Hearts can do it their way

FROM starting for Rangers as a teenager in the Champions League to the prospect of facing them next season in the Championship, football has thrown Hearts defender Danny Wilson quite a curve ball.

Danny Wilson could never have forecast facing Rangers with Hearts in the Championship
Danny Wilson could never have forecast facing Rangers with Hearts in the Championship

Five years have passed since this composed young footballer, aged 17 years and 312 days, took to the field for the 1-1 draw against Romanian outfit Unirea Urziceni to a backdrop of confident predictions of impending stardom from all and sundry.

That it hasn't exactly worked out that way so far is down to many factors, not all Wilson's fault, but it would still be a fresh ignominy for the 22-year-old former Liverpool and Blackpool player if Hibernian arrive at Tynecastle this afternoon to effectively sentence his team to a spell in Scotland's second tier.

So how would the teenage Wilson have reacted if he had gazed into a crystal ball and seen what the capricious world of football had in store?

"I would maybe have thrown in the cliche that you never know in football," Wilson said. "It's something you never would have thought would happen but with things as they are it doesn't seem as crazy any more, with the situations that both clubs have found themselves in. Hopefully Rangers are on their way back up and we can also take a step back to move forward."

As inevitable as Hearts' demotion is, there are ways to get relegated. Being sent on your way on your own patch by your city rivals on a day already christened Black Sabbath by Hibs fans who had to endure a 5-1 Scottish Cup final mauling from Hearts is not one of them.

"We've all heard Hibs are coming to have a party at Tynecastle and that's not something that sits well with us," said Wilson, unbeaten in his three capital derbies to date. "We're all fully focused on the game and I'm sure the boys will put in a performance for the fans so that it doesn't come to that."

While Hearts aren't down just yet, there was a realism about the club this week as they considered life outwith the top flight for the first time since the early 1980s.

With Dave King speaking from South Africa this week and pledging to find between £30 million to £50m to bankroll a fresh share issue at Rangers, there could be a temptation for the Gorgie club to commit to a fresh arms race in the event that IT tycoon Ann Budge can deliver them from administration.

But Gary Locke for one is against such action. "You look at what's happened this year, and although I'm no expert on business I'm pretty sure the club doesn't want to go through another season like this one," said the Hearts manager, whose own future is clouded by suggestions that Craig Levein could replace him.

If he stays, Locke would dearly love to add four old heads to his young squad, but he will have his hands full keeping hold of seven out-of-contract players - Jamie Hamill, Jamie MacDonald, Dylan McGowan, Mark Ridgers, Callum Tapping, Sam Nicholson and Gary Oliver.

"It's been a harsh lesson we've had to learn but all along we've said we're in this position because of ourselves, there's no-one else we can blame or point the finger at," Locke said. "With the new owner coming in, she'll run the club the way it should be run, and I'm pretty positive Hearts won't be spending money we don't have."

Whether that leaves room on the payroll for Premiership-standard talent such as Wilson remains to be seen - progress on new contracts has stalled in the deadlock over Hearts' future - but the player could have jumped ship at the start of last season and has two years left on his current deal. "There's no doubt it will be a competitive division next year, but I'm not thinking about that yet," Wilson said. "After this season everybody will have to take their time to digest what's happened and come back refreshed for next season.

"I haven't made any decisions, but I'm still young, I'm still ambitious and I want to play at as high a level as I possibly can. You don't know what shape we're going to be in but you know Rangers are going to continue to add. Hopefully we'll be able to do the same and be in a better position than we're in now.

"There are young boys here who you'd think after a season of first-team football would be better equipped for it. But Rangers have a lot of experienced players and there are other good teams down there. Look at the cup run we've had this year. We've faced Raith Rovers and Queen of the South and drawn with both. I don't think anybody's going to walk that division."

When the history of Hearts' relegation season is written, chroniclers will focus not only on the transfer embargo and the points penalty, but on a poor spell at the turn of the year which left them isolated. The mantra at Riccarton this week was that it won't just be the derby which relegates them. Hibs fans are unlikely to dwell on such details if the Gorgie side's doomsday scenario unfolds this afternoon.

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