St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright has admitted that leapfrogging Hearts into fourth in the Premiership is a “big incentive” for tomorrow night’s game between the two sides.
The last time the teams played Saints were struggling for form and results but the roles have been reversed ahead of the midweek McDiarmid Park clash.
Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Rangers was the Tynecastle side’s fifth loss in six games, while Wright’s men have won five in the same amount of matches.
And if that trend continues with a home win, Saints would go one point above the Jam Tarts in Wright’s 250th game in charge.
“They are still a good side,” said the Perth boss. “They have lost key players but so have most clubs. It’s part and parcel of the game.
“We could be without five players against Hearts. Danny Swanson is a doubt and we have Drey Wright out now long term along with injuries to Steven Anderson and back-up keeper Connor Mitchell. And we have missed Brian Easton for a year now.
“To be fair I don’t think Hearts are using it as an excuse for the run they are on.
“They have a big enough squad but the momentum has gone for now.
“Their defeat from Rangers might make this game even tougher for us because they will be even more determined to get out of the run they are on.
“But it shows how far we have come since we lost to Hearts at Tynecastle.
“They were top of the league and unbeaten. Now we have a chance to go above them if we win.”
>>24 Days of Christmas – Click here for special festive deals from some of our favourite local businesses
Wright added: “Hearts have done well this season and were big spenders in the summer.
“So it’s great we are on their coat-tails at the minute and it is a big incentive to go fourth.
“But I’d rather it was nearer the end of the season with the chance there for us.
“It’s still early days and we won’t get carried away.
“We want to maintain the level of performance we have had over the last six games. Do that and Hearts will know they have a tough game on their hands.”
Wright was at Tynecastle to watch the Rangers game and he reflected: “Hearts started well and could have been more than one goal up.
“It was a good game and it was physical.
“Before Rangers took control of the game, even with 10 men, Hearts were giving them a torrid time.
“The officials have come in for a lot of criticism but it was a difficult game to referee.
“On another day there could have been a couple of early yellow cards but then they would be criticised for booking players too early.
“Managers can point to decisions that go against them every week but referees get things wrong, just as we do.
“I was at the game and didn’t think Rangers’ second goal was offside at the time and Hearts players didn’t seem to be complaining.
“These things happen.
“We have all spoken out about referees and I am guilty of it myself.
“I have tried to temper and tone down what I have to say after games.
“Maybe we have to take a lesson from other sports.
“Look at rugby. Even when they go to the video calls pundits are still arguing referees have got it wrong. The difference is that rugby just accepts it.
“There is no criticism of the officials but in football we think it is part and parcel of the game.
“I have been guilty of it on more than one occasion and I can understand Craig’s frustration.
“But sometimes we can go too far.
“All the controversy means nothing in terms of our game with Hearts. Hopefully we can cause them a different set of problems.”