Ryan Stevenson has suggested Hearts became complacent in their bid to confirm third place in the SPL. At one point this seaon, held a 15-point lead over fourth place and were considered genuine contenders to either split the Old Firm or win the title outright. However, after losses to both Rangers and Celtic, the Jambos their hopes of a title challenge end. Hearts have recorded just one win in their last five chances to give Dundee United hope of overhauling their rivals. However, Motherwell beat United 2-1 on Wednesday night to help the Edinburgh side, who now hold a 10-point advantage with seven games remaining. The 26-year-old Chelsea youth team product has started Hearts' last five games, scoring in the win over St Mirren and the Edinburgh derby draw at Hibs last week.
Stevenson said: "It looked so easy at one stage that we were definitely going to get there. It's been tough. When you open up that big a gap, you maybe switch off and think we're 12, 15 points in front, we're fine. The gap closes very, very quickly. Dundee United have shown how good a team they are and pressed back. We managed to get a little bit of luck on Wednesday night (United lost 2-1 at Motherwell). We know that if we go off the boil Dundee United will be right on our tails. For us personally we've got to take it every game at a time."
Stevenson has been encouraged by Hearts' displays this season and believes Jim Jefferies' men can put together a more sustained challenge next term. He added: "This is where Hearts should be. A lot of teams push Rangers and Celtic to January and fade away. We've pushed them until March this year and we've only been together as a team for a year. We need to finish third, go away and look next season to push on a bit further. We've definitely got the squad and we've definitely got the players to do that."
Perhaps one of the reasons for Hearts' stuttering form has been injuries, with striker Kevin Kyle having not played since January. Calum Elliot has been ruled out for the season, while Rudi Skacel, Lee Wallace and others have been absent at important times. The signing of Skacel has meant Stevenson has been more of a peripheral figure than he would like to have been this term, starting 12 games and making 13 substitute appearances. But Stevenson, who joined from Ayr in the 2010 January transfer window, has still scored crucial goals, including the winner in the defeat of Rangers in January. Stevenson has been operating up front, away from his usual position, but he is satisfied. He added: "I'd play in goal for Hearts - I'd be happy doing that. I don't feel totally comfortable up there, but every game I'm playing up there I feel a bit better. Stephen Elliott and the boys playing alongside me are helping me as well. If it's going to get me more games I'll be more than happy to turn into a striker. I only played striker twice in my career at Ayr and that was through injuries. Here I've probably played striker more than I have midfield, but I'm happy to play wherever the manager asks me to."