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In the Lithuanian lions' den, Hearts trio will soon find out just how hungry they are

YOU couldn't blame Hearts fans if they'd spent yesterday online searching for "the national characteristics of Lithuanians".

Ann Budge's personal wealth will not be lost on the Lithuanians . . . Picture: SNS
Ann Budge's personal wealth will not be lost on the Lithuanians . . . Picture: SNS

The agenda changes quickly for this beleaguered club. Relegation on Saturday afternoon and this morning … what?

Hearts could be sent on a path towards liquidation if anything goes wrong around a couple of meetings scheduled to go ahead in Vilnius this morning. Everyone's known that for weeks but what no-one knows for sure, not even those who have been immersed in this lamentable saga, is how it's going to go. Bryan Jackson doesn't know, Ann Budge doesn't know, Ian Murray doesn't know.

It would be no surprise if all three admitted to a rather disturbed sleep last night. They are beset by stress and worry because they need decisiveness and approval from a group of people who have, until now, procrastinated and been pretty obstructive. One thing that must be remembered about these people in Lithuania who are owed money: they don't have Hearts' best interests at heart and neither do they have any need to apologise for that. Are they out for the best deal they can get regardless of what it means to Hearts? Yes, of course they are. It is an unenviable and deeply vulnerable position for the club.

Jackson is a master of the art of brinkmanship. He's been here plenty of times before and he isn't the type to blink first. But those who know the BDO insolvency expert say this veteran of football administrations has never felt more unsure of his territory. It would be putting it mildly to say UBIG and Ukio Bankas haven't been easy to deal with.

A penny for Budge's thoughts now that it has come to this. Ukio Bankas's creditors have repeatedly asked for more information about the deal on the table which she is bankrolling, even though the belief over here is that they have been provided with every scrap they conceivably could need.

The suspicion is that they know all about Budge and her reported £40m personal wealth, and believe it wouldn't hurt her to cough up a bit more. Budge isn't likely to be bullied into investing a pound more than she wants to get this deal across the line but, still, she would be painted into an awkward corner if Ukio Bankas's creditors say they would quickly agree if the package was just a little better. Would she dig a little more deeply if all eyes were on her and it was clear only she could prevent liquidation? She'll know it won't be an easy one to sell to her fellow fans if she said £2.5m was her limit and walked away.

If the Lithuanians want a better deal they haven't said so up until now. If they believe they could get more than £2.5m for Tynecastle then they haven't said that either. It's been stressed to them very firmly that nearby Tynecastle High School, covering roughly the same acreage, was recently sold for £600,000 so the figure proposed for the football ground looks pretty handsome. If they think they could get more from separating club and property, and leasing Tynecastle to Hearts rather than selling it, then that's something else they haven't said so far.

In Jackson Hearts have the saviour specialist, the man who always pulls a club out of the fire. His track record suggests he will get them across the line again this morning. But unlike every time he's saved clubs from liquidation in the past, this time he doesn't know exactly who he's dealing with or what they really want.

And Another Thing...

When Leigh Griffiths met Neil Lennon to show contrition for that "Hearts are going bust" pub sing-a-long last week let's hope he had the sense to say "erm, sorry boss, there's also something else you need to know". The revelation yesterday that in the same drinking session Griffiths also orchestrated a witless racist chant about Czech striker Rudi Skacel casts the whole episode in a darker light. Plenty of us had sympathy for Griffiths when the SFA poked its nose in over the Hearts song - it was the essence of a fan singing about his rivals and the idea that it brought the game into "disrepute" was laughable - but the ignorant, nasty abuse of Skacel is different.

Lennon has said all he probably intends to say about Griffiths for now but he's made it clear that he isn't going to tolerate his new striker ricocheting from one controversy to the next. Eighteen months ago Lennon warned that, on his watch, Celtic players could be sacked instantly if they were found guilty of any sort of discrimination. "I have a zero-tolerance rule," he said at the time. "Any sign of any sort of racism against colour, religion, background will be an instant sackable offence."

But football clubs suspend their morals when it would be too costly to apply them. Griffiths is too valuable to dismiss and he will survive. But already, with his Celtic career still in its infancy, he's on thin ice. As he might put it himself, it's time to screw the nut.

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