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14 of 019 ----- L SPL H

Losing out will make Hearts stronger next term


THE prospect of a season without European football is not something which rests easily with Hearts star Neil MacFarlane.

Since moving to Tynecastle almost three years ago, the midfielder has enjoyed regular sojourns in the UEFA Cup and has been involved in some memorable forays onto foreign shores with the Jambos.

Epic nights in Bordeaux and Basle will linger long in the memory but any hopes of broadening his Continental horizons have been quashed for at least a year following the stalemate against Motherwell on Saturday.

The 0-0 draw in the Capital finally ended the Gorgie outfit’s quest for a hat-trick of third place finishes, much to MacFarlane’s disappointment.

Signed by Craig Levein, the 27-year-old has battled back from a serious knee injury to establish himself as a key member of the Tynecastle squad over the past couple of seasons.

While still attempting to shrug off missing out on Europe, the battling midfielder insists that Hearts will use the experience to rebound an even stronger unit next season.

"There is no hiding how disappointed we are as qualifying for Europe was what we were trying to achieve," he said.

"We now have to try to finish the season as positively as we can and come back stronger next year. Since being at the club I have been playing in Europe and this season we progressed to the group stages of the competition which was great.

"That is where you want to be but unfortunately it’s not going to be the case next season. We have got to bounce back from this and ensure we finish third next year. There is no way we want to miss out on it two years in a row we will be even hungrier when the new season starts."

The exertions against the likes of Feyenoord, Schalke, Basle and Ferencvaros perhaps played a part in the Jambos failing to hit the heights on the domestic front this term, while the effect of a change of management with John Robertson replacing Levein six months ago cannot be underestimated.

"We played a lot of tough games in Europe and they maybe took their toll on the guys but having said that these are the games you want to play in as a professional footballer," said MacFarlane, who was outstanding against the Steelmen. It has to be remembered this has been a transitional period for the club and in the circumstances I think we have done quite well.

"You could see by our performance against Motherwell that the effort was there. Hibs had a great result at Parkhead and that finished things off for us - we are just not getting the little breaks which we maybe enjoyed over the last couple of seasons."

The Jambos still have a significant role to play in the destiny of the SPL championship with Robertson taking his men to Ibrox on Saturday before Celtic visit Gorgie the following weekend as the title race threatens to go right down to the wire.

"Although we won’t finish third we have been involved in a lot of big games and it has been enjoyable," said MacFarlane.

"Obviously it’s a bit of a downer not finishing third but when you look at the likes of our win in Basle and the massive games against Feyenoord, Schalke and Ferencvaros it was still a success on that basis.

"There is something there to build on and we have to try to do that. I am sure we will as we are a strong squad.

"We have a massive say in the destination of the league championship with both Rangers and Celtic coming up in our next two games. Even though we are out of the race for Europe there are still some huge games coming up and the lads are all be looking forward to them.

"We have maybe not kicked on results-wise after our win over Celtic at Parkhead but that result gave us the confidence we can play against the Old Firm and hopefully we can show that at Ibrox this weekend.

"The last few weeks have been very frustrating as we have been playing well without getting the breaks needed to win matches. I was happy enough with my own performance but I’m just concentrating on helping the team finish on a high now.

"I’m loving my time at Hearts and it’s vital we get back into Europe as quickly as possible.

"I have another year left on my contract and hopefully I can stay longer and enjoy more games on the European stage."

Taken from the Scotsman

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