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Stevenson has clear designs on league crown

RYAN STEVENSON has never been one to hang around waiting for the ink to dry.

Stevenson was adding to tattoo collection when he heard Hearts were safe. Picture: SNS
Stevenson was adding to tattoo collection when he heard Hearts were safe. Picture: SNS

Hearts are not yet out of administration but their heavily tattooed midfielder has already delivered a statement of intent about next season. Hearts aim to win the SPFL Championship, he said, not hang on the coat-tails of the favourites, Rangers, and squeeze up via a play-off.

Where was Stevenson four days ago when he received a text message telling him Hearts effectively had been saved from liquidation? Having another tattoo done. "It was 'UBIG: See You Later!'," he joked. It wasn't, but the 29-year-old spoke for everyone at Hearts when he welcomed UBIG and Ukio Bankas being shed and the club moving from Lithuanian to Scottish control.

Soon the skies will clear and it will be down to the prospective owner Ann Budge and the Foundation of Hearts, whose money is being pumped in for use as working capital, to build a squad capable of taking the club straight back into the Premiership in a year's time. Hearts have five games left as a top-flight club, the first of them against Ross County at Tynecastle this afternoon.

From the 33 league matches they have played, they have won seven, drawn seven and lost 19. Even without their 15-point deduction for being in administration they would be bottom of the league (by two points).

When the emergence from administration is complete, and issues such as Gary Locke's future as manager are resolved, attention must turn to the squad's readiness to challenge in the second tier next season. It is a division that will contain Rangers as well as two out of three from Dundee, Hamilton or Falkirk, or one of the five Premiership clubs currently struggling to avoid the relegation play-off.

"We'll need fresh bodies in and a bit more experience to go for a title push," Stevenson said. "It won't be easy but we'll give Rangers a run for their money and if the manager brings in the players he wants then there's no reason why we can't win the league. We're not going to accept that Rangers are going to win it and settle for second. Our main goal is to win it but we'll need reinforcements.

"I hope we can come back up at the first time of asking. Hearts are a club built on strong foundations and hopefully their fans will never again have to go through what they have for the last two seasons, digging deep for money they probably didn't have on two or three occasions."

Stevenson had his latest tattoo - the phrase "One True Love" and a design on his thigh, for those who have an interest in such matters - in a parlour in Ayr. He is an Ayrshireman and Ayr United are his team, but he left them for the first of two spells with Hearts in 2010 and now has equal affection for both clubs.

Stevenson said: "I was in getting the tattoo done so it was nice during all that pain to get a text to say 'you're coming out of administration'. It was pretty much the perfect pain relief. I didn't tell the tattoo artist what was happening. I just kind of smiled. I was in too much pain at the time.

"I was at Hearts as a schoolboy but Jim Jefferies brought me in a couple of years ago and I realised straight away how big a club it is. I'm lucky to have played for Ayr United because I supported them but I now have the same feeling for Hearts as I do for Ayr. It's not just the manager and the players but everyone around the club. It's like one big family. I'd love to stay here as long as I can."

No-one has been more influential on Stevenson at Hearts, during this second spell, than Locke. The speculation over the manager's future is difficult for Stevenson to comprehend. He said: "I think more than anything else in this world the manager deserves his shot at this. Everyone knows what this club means to him. It's his dream job.

"With what he's had to deal with in his first managerial job, under the circumstances, what he's done has been nothing short of remarkable. Because of the feelings I have for him as a friend and things like that I would obviously back him to the hilt. But away from that, as a manager and as a coach he has a massive career ahead of him. He's a top, top manager and a top, top coach."

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