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Partick Thistle 2 Hearts 4: Going down fighting

THERE is no acceptable way to be relegated, particularly if it is the first time you have suffered that indignity since 1981.

Dale Carrick, fourth from left, hauls Hearts level at 1-1 just before the interval Photograph: SNS
Dale Carrick, fourth from left, hauls Hearts level at 1-1 just before the interval Photograph: SNS

But at least Hearts went down with their heads held high.

There has been much to admire all season about the way this spirited group of young players, chaperoned by a few battle-hardened older heads, has tried to defy the odds, and rarely more so than in Maryhill yesterday, when they battled back from an early setback to race to a 4-1 lead.

But at around 4.40pm, the eerie silence which fell upon the away support at Firhill shortly after Jordan McMillan's late consolation goal told its own story.

Smartphones rather than the traditional radios relayed the news of two late St Mirren goals against Motherwell, rendering the best efforts of the Hearts players utterly irrelevant.

Even as the final whistle sounded, the emotions of the away fans were lost amid a soundtrack of grumbles from their hosts, who found themselves dragged back to second bottom in the table, not entirely free of the possibility of joining Hearts in the second tier.

As engaging as Hearts' fight against the 15-point penalty has been, the Gorgie side were surely correct in their insistence last night that their biggest battle has yet to begin.

Bryan Jackson and Trevor Birch of administrators BDO fly out to Lithuania today for meetings with major creditors UBIG and UKIO Bankas which will decide if they can exit administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), transferring ownership to Ann Budge and Foundation of Hearts, or whether liquidation and starting again from scratch is the only viable option.

With First Minister Alex Salmond involved, Jackson also has a meeting with the British ambassador to Lithuania, and last night it was UKIO, which has security on Tynecastle stadium, that seemed the biggest obstacle.

Budge has yet to indicate if she will support a bid to relaunch a post-liquidation Hearts on the Rangers model, potentially from the bottom tier, but with a final outcome likely to be known by mid-to-late afternoon, it promises to be a hugely fraught time for players such as talisman Ryan Stevenson.

The scorer of two fine goals here, Stevenson last night called for the Lithuanians to do the right thing, and pledged his future to the club - assuming, that is, he has a club to play for next season.

"It is bittersweet because with just a few minutes to go we were asking what the St Mirren score was and it was 2-1 to Motherwell," said Stevenson. "It would have just kept things alive a little longer, so the boys are disappointed, but the main thing is we get through Monday and hopefully get the right outcome then. The biggest thing is the club is still here. I just hope that for once the Lithuanians make the right decision and we can look to go straight back up."

He added: "I will be staying. When I came back here, it was for the long haul. Whether that is the First Division, Second Division or Third Division I am not bothered. I left once and when you leave you do miss it. I want to stay at Hearts for as long as I can."

Having said all that, the way this match began didn't seem likely to be anything like as nice a way to get relegated.

Five minutes in Kris Doolan was latching on to an Aaron Taylor-Sinclair through-pass and smashing in a left-foot half volley. The game might have been beyond the visitors had Lyle Taylor not finished wildly from a Kallum Higginbotham pass.

But young Dale Carrick and Billy King are displaying growing maturity with each week, and the two youngsters who gave Hearts a derby win were soon at it again.

First Carrick headed in from close range after a King cross, then just after the break King struck an unerring drive into the top of Gallacher's net. Stevenson glanced in a third from a King corner, before the same man steered in a fine fourth from Scott Robinson's pass.

No wonder then that for Gary Locke there was pride among the disappointment. "We have had a lot to deal with this year," he said, "but today showed that if we didn't have a 15-point deduction we would be in the mix with a really young side."

Jordan McMillan's angled drive with two minutes to go was no more than a consolation, but the visiting fans were inconsolable.

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