15 Apr All about the Europa League for Smith
Hearts defender Liam Smith is desperate to see his side fire themselves back into the Europa League hunt – because he does not fancy kicking-off next season in the Betfred Cup.
The Jambos’ hopes of snatching fourth place and a potential European ticket suffered a blow when they were held to a goalless draw by Kilmarnock on Friday night.
St Johnstone remain the frontrunners to finish behind Celtic, Aberdeen and Rangers, and so long as Hibernian do not win the William Hill Scottish Cup, it will be the Perth side who will take the final qualifying slot.
As things stand, Ian Cathro’s men will be left to face a summer group stage campaign as the League Cup gets under way.
But that does not hold much appeal to full-back Smith.
He said: “You look at the club building a new stand and everything is on the up off the field. But for that to continue we have to be playing Europa League football.
“It’s vital for the club in terms of finance and, going into the split, qualifying for Europe is our only aim.
“Next season we’ll either be playing in the Europa League or the group stages of the Betfred Cup. No disrespect to that competition but we want to be playing at the highest possible level.
“We got a taste of it last year and we want to continue pushing the club forward and ourselves as players.”
Hearts have won just five games from the 21 Cathro has been in charge of and the new boss admitted his men had shown a vulnerability as they toiled to break Kilmarnock down at Rugby Park.
Smith confessed his side are struggling for confidence but still believes a corner has been turned.
“We’re disappointed because we want to win every game so we can keep the pressure on St Johnstone,” he said.
“When your confidence is low, everything hits you hard and it seems that a game is more difficult than it is.
“We’ve been on a run where we haven’t picked up many wins and it perhaps does feel that things are more difficult. But we have to remember fourth is still in our reach.
“We’ve also come away with a point and a clean sheet, which maybe six weeks ago wouldn’t have happened. So last night is something for us to build on.”
Killie were hoping for the win which would have all but guaranteed their safety with five games to go, but boss Lee McCulloch was left frustrated.
He said: “It’s a point but whether it’s a good point or a bad one I don’t know yet.
“We will take the positive, however. It’s a clean sheet and at least we’re moving up the way rather than standing still.”