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Flame of hope burns on for yet another few days

Gary Locke, the Hearts manager, saluted his players' character and resilience again last night after they earned another stay of execution from relegation, but he admitted the club's biggest battle is entirely out of their hands.

Hearts' Jamie Hamill, right, sends Jamie Langfield the wrong way to earn a point against Aberdeen and stave off automatic relegation. Picture: SNS
Hearts' Jamie Hamill, right, sends Jamie Langfield the wrong way to earn a point against Aberdeen and stave off automatic relegation. Picture: SNS

A 1-1 draw against Aberdeen meant Hearts are not yet officially condemned to relegation, although they are 18 points behind with only 18 still available. They were losing to a Willo Flood goal, and had Danny Wilson sent off, but Jamie Hamill's late penalty kept the flame burning for a few more days at least.

Of greater concern to everyone at Tynecastle is the meeting of creditors in Lithuania on Monday. Hearts need that meeting to go ahead, without further delays, and for the creditors to accept the £2.5m Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) pot being offered by prospective owner Ann Budge's BIDCO takeover vehicle and transfer the majority shareholding of parent company UBIG. If that is rejected, or even if a decision is delayed, Hearts could run out of money and face liquidation.

"That's the biggest battle we're going to face," said Locke last night. "It has been all season, but it's coming closer now. Partick Thistle on Saturday is a big game, we're looking to try and win that, but the biggest battle we face is on Monday."

Locke was delighted with his side again, three days after they defeated Hibs. "They're not going quietly. Credit to them. I said after the game on Sunday they're improving, they're getting better. They're all certainly better players than the ones that started the season. I think you can see that tonight again. They have applied themselves brilliantly, especially in the second half, against a top team. Even with 10 men they never gave up."

Locke accepted Wilson's red card, after a second booking. "The pleasing thing was the reaction of the team. It would have been easy to put the heads down but, as usual, we got the response we were looking for and we were delighted to get the equaliser."

Aberdeen moved back to second in the SPFL Premiership, ahead of Motherwell on goal difference, but they have failed to beat Hearts in three meetings this season, losing twice. They dominated the first half but failed to create enough chances and lacked penetration.

"I'm disappointed because we bossed the game up until the last five minutes," said manager Derek McInnes. "We were culpable of not having enough quality in the final third. We could have got a second or third goal."

He disputed the penalty conceded by Shay Logan for a foul on Callum Paterson. "I'm not convinced it was a penalty. I have watched it again and I'm not convinced the referee is in a good position to see it. He's got to be 100 per cent sure. Shay should have dealt with the first clearance and he gave Hearts a second bite, but Paterson threw himself into Shay.

"It won't be the biggest disappointment if we don't finish second. These players deserve plaudits for battling on three fronts. We are the only team who have done it. We're fighting in the league, we're still in the Scottish Cup and we won the League Cup. But we are eager to finish the season successfully."

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