Heart of Midlothian return to league action this weekend as they travel to fourth-placed Kilmarnock knowing a win will secure group-stage European football for next term.

Steven Naismith met the press ahead of Saturday's encounter at Rugby Park where the Hearts head coach was asked about the team's response to the semi-final defeat to Rangers, the goalkeeping situation between now and the end of the season, and the team's progress since September's 2-1 win over Derek McInnes' side in the League Cup quarter-finals.

Here's everything he had to say. 

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What’s the message been to the team after the semi-final defeat. Onwards and upwards?

Yeah. In football there are periods you need to go through. When you lose a semi-final, that night is a write-off and the next day is a write-off. Even when you are back in, it’s sluggish to get going. In my whole career, there’s no way you can get over that. It’s a healing process that needs to happen. You run the game through in your mind, everybody works out what they could do differently, and there are a lot of ‘if onlys’. Next season and the season after, that will be the big bit we take from those moments. Now it’s back to the league and a brilliant opportunity to just seal that third place and then just enjoy the last month of the season.

Will you set new targets now to keep the players motivated?

I think we can hit 70 points, that’s something we have talked about. I’m not going to make it a target but I think it’s realistic that we could do it. Being in football for 20 years, there are not many times when you can get a good month where you can just play with freedom, enjoyment and no pressure. We’ve got to enjoy that but with us being a driven group you will still have those targets. It’s not about trying to drive every last ounce out of the players at this moment, it’s about enjoying being comfortable and trying to get that freedom when you play. Then you can try risky passes and try some of the dangerous things we want to do and get to where it’s comfortable. You also look at the squad and, if anybody is carrying wee niggles, you can effectively give them time to make sure they are healing. We have a drive, I think 70 points is reasonable and realistic.

Will Zander be back in goal?

Yeah, Zander will play because it’s an important game and we go back to the way we have worked all season.

With the potential of 26-man squads for the Euros, that could augur well for both keepers?

I’m not sure. I think the manager might rather another outfield option rather than over-carrying goalkeepers. But it changes the dynamic and there will be more spaces. With injuries, some players might make it or not so there are a few variables. The players can only do what they can and the manager will have a decision to make.

It would be quite incredible for one club to have two keepers at Euros?

It would be, but I only think we are in this position because the two goalies have pushed each other. From the different circumstances of Craigy being a long-term injury to coming back at a certain time, they’ve pushed each other, and that’s been the drive. It would be some achievement getting the two of them there.

How have you dealt with it?

First of all, the way it has played out, Craigy had to show he was back. There was never going to be a case where I played Craig unless I felt he was back, and I’ve worked with him and played with him enough to know when that moment came. The cup tied in with that but ultimately it’s competition for places. Unfortunately only one goalie plays. It’s like every player, if you’re not on it you’ll not play and that’s the way it has been. And both of them have been professional enough about it. They’ve been happy enough. Both of them will say they want to play every game. But they’ve had to understand we have a good group, we have good competition for places, so it’s play well, train well and see what happens.

Do you expect that competition to intensify over the last five games?

I think so. Both of them will be desperate to play and try to do all they can to get in the team. But all I can be is honest with them and that’s what I have been. I am not going to sit and kid them both on that I’m going to keep everyone happy because it’s not going to happen. There has got to be a realisation that the situation is what it is. They’ve both given themselves a chance of being in the squad, I think the face they were both picked for the last squad shows the manager wants to understand where they both are and that they’re both in his plans. The brutal part of football is when squads are announced there are only so many who can go. There’s losers as well as winners.

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Will you rotate for the last four games if you clinch third this weekend?

I haven't thought that far ahead, if I’m honest. I want to just think about getting third. It’s an option. Is much going to change in the next two or there games? I’m not sure from knowing the manager. But it’s probably something I will think about.

The first trip to Rugby Park this season saw a bit of unrest from the fans and a banner aimed at the board was displayed. Now you go there looking to seal third – that’s quite the contrast?

It is a contrast. It’s football. I think at that time it was unnecessary and harsh on the club and the board. As much as I wasn’t getting it, there was pressure there and you could tell. But there was a calmness internally. What I was saying to the players, the board – everyone trusted and believed in it. There were signs of it – maybe not blossoming like flowers in the summer – but there were shoots. And over time we have continued to build and build and build. For me, there’s still loads to go. If you look back at this season and reflect on it, this is the first season this squad has been together. Our starting team throughout the season is the second-youngest in the league, we reached two semi-finals, and we have the points tally that we have at the moment. It’s been a really good season. There was a lot of unrest at the start, then there was adversity that we had to deal with and be stronger. It’s good. We have been knocked out of two semi-finals and we are disappointed – but if we were four years down the line and had a squad that had been together for a long period, and expectation is really high, then you might say it has been a failure. But for our first year, getting to these points and being where we are, it has been a really good season – with hopefully European group-stage football to come.

Is it fair to call that game a turning point?

It was a big moment and a big game. For Kilmarnock to score at the time they did, that was a real ‘right, what’s going to happen here? Are we going to lose momentum and give up chances or are we going to fight?’. We made a couple of subs that impacted the game well and changed the shape of the team, and it had an impact. It was a big moment but I don’t know if it was a defining one.

Do you think too much is made of the surface at Rugby Park?

I think it has a big impact, without a doubt. It changes the way the ball bounces and rolls. Players can do everything right and still a bad outcome can happen on that surface, 100 per cent. If anything, you play into it. I don’t think you put it to the side because it impacts the way the game is played. I think the games that you watch there have that all the time. Every game mistakes are made where it’s not the player’s fault. It’s the bounce of the ball and the anticipation because they work every day on a grass pitch. Even when it’s wet or dry, that can make a big difference. So it plays a huge part in it. We have factored that into how we work and the way we play the game, and that has stood us in good stead. But what we have done is defended really well when we’ve been away to Kilmarnock because they are a really dangerous team.