LOCKE URGES SERGIO TO STAY WITH HEARTS
Hearts first-team coach Gary Locke hopes manager Paulo Sergio will remain in Edinburgh next season irrespective of whether the Portuguese steers the capital club to European football and Scottish Cup glory this term.
While the May 19 William Hill Scottish Cup final with capital rivals Hibernian looms large on the horizon, Hearts' immediate focus is the final five matches of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League campaign, beginning with Saturday's first post-split fixture against Rangers at Tynecastle.
Due to their current predicament, Rangers are set to be excluded from Europe next term, but, after a tumultuous season, Hearts are well-placed to be in continental competition and Locke hopes Sergio will be manager for another foray into the Europa League.
Talks are poised to begin between Hearts hierarchy and Sergio, who is out of contract at the end of the season after succeeding Jim Jefferies as boss last August.
Locke said: "I hope he can get everything sorted out and he is the Hearts manager next season because he has done brilliantly since he's been here.
"His attention to detail is first-class. He knows everything about the game, tactically he's magnificent.
"He's proved over the course of the season how good a manager he is.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed working under him and feel like I'm learning all the time."
Securing European football could also ensure players out of contract this summer, among them Rudi Skacel and Craig Beattie, can stay on next term.
"If we can get into Europe, it means bringing in more money for the club," Locke added.
"If that can help keep the players I'm sure it's going to be beneficial to all of us.
"They're certainly players we'd all like to see at the club next season."
Sergio banned his players from discussing next month's final after the place was achieved by last Sunday's semi-final defeat of SPL champions Celtic and Locke was reluctant to mention the showpiece too.
He said: "It's a month away, the game will take care of itself. We've got big league games coming up."
Locke hopes Hearts can secure their European place on merit through the league over the course of a 38-game campaign.
While Rangers' situation means fifth place is set to be good enough for Europa League football, sixth-placed Hearts are eager to leapfrog St Johnstone and Dundee United, who meet in Perth on Saturday, and finish fourth.
Saints are two points above in fourth, with United a point and a place further back.
Locke, who praised Rangers' recent performances amid the turmoil at Ibrox, added: "If we can get ourselves up the league table we'll get into Europe through our league position.
"I think that's vitally important. It means over the course of the campaign you've been consistent and you've done well."
Hearts are already without right-back Jamie Hamill (knee) for the remainder of the campaign and it appears midfielder Adrian Mrowiec (knee) is unlikely to play again this season.
"I think they're maybe looking towards next season," Locke added of Mrowiec.
Winger David Templeton could return on Saturday after being an unused substitute last weekend.
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