James McPake has warned Hearts that the Championship will be no cake walk, with his Dundee side “better equipped” to go for the title next season.
The SPFL’s decision to end the Premiership campaign due to the coronavirus shutdown, and determine places through a points-per-game system, means the Jambos drop into the second tier as things stand.
That will see them compete with the Dark Blues for the chance to return to the top flight at the end of 2020/21.
McPake said: “Hearts are a big club coming down but we are a big club as well.
“It will be tough for them coming down, it won’t be easy.
“There will be expectation on them to win every week in front of an expectant crowd.
“We faced that last season, Dundee United faced it for four years – any of the bigger clubs coming into this league there is high expectation and a big weight on shoulders.”
He added: “It doesn’t change anything we are going to do, whoever we are up against.
“We under-performed last season. We have looked into that and into reasons why. We knew it would be tough but that’s no excuse, we did underperform.
“The Championship is a hard league but we got to grips with it in the later stages of the season and we will be better equipped next season.”
An interesting sideshow in any meeting of Dundee and Hearts next season could be which shirt Christophe Berra is wearing.
The former Scotland international was discarded by incoming Tynecastle boss Daniel Stendel – whose own future is up in the air due to a relegation clause in his contract – in January and arrived on loan at Dens Park.
After conceding once in his first match, Berra helped the Dark Blues defence to five straight clean sheets before the global pandemic shut down the season.
McPake has made no secret of his desire to have the ex-Ipswich and Wolves man back at his disposal next season but accepts that decision is out of his hands.
“That will be up to Hearts,” he said.
“First and foremost, he did great when he came in, he played an equal part in a fantastic back three with Jordon Forster and Josh Meekings.
“Christophe brought a real calming influence on the pitch. That’s why he’s had such a good career.
“At the minute, he’s a Hearts player. We’ll monitor things but the ball is firmly in Hearts’ court.
“They didn’t want him last year, they might next season. That’s up to the Hearts manager and Ann Budge to decide.
“If they don’t want him I’m sure there will be a host of teams wanting him as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
This week would have been the Premiership play-off final, a match McPake and his Dark Blues were desperate to be part of had the season continued.
The time off has allowed the Dens gaffer to get ahead in preparations for the new campaign, though he admits he’d very much like to know when that will actually happen.
The SPFL have declared a mid-July start for the League Cup and August 1 for league football.
That, however, will need the say-so first from the Scottish Government that it is safe to stage matches once more.
McPake said: “Now we’d have been in the last week of the season in terms of the play-offs and then it would be close season anyway.
“Normally when it is the close season, you have a date and you know where you are working towards.
“That’s what we need, what I need anyway.
“We’ll plan all we can, all the analysis from last season has already been done so that has accelerated work we would have done anyway. We have got a lot of good work in, actually.
“I think everybody involved in football would love a date to know when we are going back, we’re just waiting on that.”
Asked whether it was the right decision to end the season prematurely, the Dark Blues boss replied: “I don’t know. I think Jurgen Klopp put it perfectly saying football is the most important of unimportant things.
“There are people losing their lives, fighting for their lives with this illness and there are others protecting people.
“They are real heroes and for us to sit and talk about football and whether it’s right to stop and give titles or relegations is frankly irrelevant.
“First and foremost, we want society back to a bit of normality and as many people clear and safe from this virus.”