HIBERNIAN stalwart Darren McGregor is adamant the Premiership would be poorer place without city rivals Hearts, insisting the electric Edinburgh derby is the highlight of the season for most Easter Road stars.
The 34-year-old has confessed to having plenty of sympathy for the men in maroon, who are four points adrift at the foot of the table and facing the drop if the league is called in the coming weeks.
And he would fully understand the feeling of injustice if they are condemned to the Championship with 24 points to play for and all of their bottom-six showdowns still to come.
“With me playing for Hibs, you’d maybe expect the opinion that I’d want Hearts relegated – but I want them in the league,” said McGregor. “It’s a better league with Hearts in it.
“You ask any guy that played for Hibs what their favourite fixture is for atmosphere, competitiveness, the build-up and the fan appreciation, it’s the Edinburgh derby.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s at Tynecastle or Easter Road, it’s a special game.
“It would be easy to say ‘they are bottom, we want them relegated’ but if I was a Hearts player right now then of course I would say it’s unfair to call the season. They still have eight games to play.
“They would have been in the bottom-six after the split and with five six-pointers to play against the teams around them so, from their perspective, they’d be thinking ‘we’ve got a right good chance to get out of this’.”
However, Hearts’ fate looks increasingly tied to reconstruction.
Tynecastle supremo Ann Budge is spearheading a 15-person SPFL task force alongside Hamilton’s Les Gray as they seek to revamp the pyramid. A 14-14-16 structure is reportedly the preferred option on the table at the moment.
“There is never going to be a perfect solution and there will be those against it,” the former Rangers and St Mirren defender added. “But you would probably please more people with that [reconstruction] than most other methods.
“Nobody could have every foreseen this situation. It’s unprecedented and no decision will be 100 per cent popular, but does reconstruction tick a lot of boxes and stop a lot of clubs from being punished? It probably does.”
Hibs boss Jack Ross told The Scotsman on Thursday that it ‘would help everyone’s peace of mind if we are told the season is finished’ as he called for some form of clarity.
And McGregor is increasingly pessimistic about the prospect of the 2019/20 campaign being completed – and sceptical about the prospect of games being played behind closed doors.
“My initial reaction when this all kicked off was that we would definitely be able to finish the season,” continued McGregor. “I was thinking that you could cram eight games into six weeks and then there are no grey areas.
“But the longer the pandemic continues, the more unlikely that seems.
“I do believe that over the next few weeks, some restrictions will be eased but I just can’t see a scenario where you have crowds at games and it doesn’t make financial sense for the vast majority of clubs in Scotland to play games behind closed doors.”