The most disappointing aspect of the past few weeks for Hearts is that we’ve not been able to build on the positivity of reaching the League Cup final, with one point from our last three games leaving us bang up against it in the battle for a top-six place.
For all that we didn’t play so well on Saturday, though, you have to give the opposition credit where it’s due and I thought Kilmarnock were excellent. People can like or dislike their manager, Kenny Shiels, because of his outspoken views, but what they can’t take away from him is that he has done an absolutely magnificent job with a tiny budget and a group of largely unheralded players. Kenny has built something special there over a period of time – a unit that is capable of coping with the loss of key players – and, ultimately, that is what John McGlynn is looking to do at Hearts over time.
These defeats are character-building for the youngsters and it’ll be even tougher for them because they don’t have many experienced players around them in the team, with the likes of Ryan Stevenson and Marius Zaliukas joining our ever-growing absentee list. However, John would have known all along that results like Saturday’s were likely when blooding youngsters, no matter how talented they might be. Inconsistency and setbacks are par for the course in terms of rearing youngsters and that’s why I can’t agree with those fans around me who were pointing the finger at the manager on Saturday.
These people need to view the bigger picture at the football club rather than criticise John, who has got us to a cup final on probably the least amount of resources of any Hearts manager, probably since Alex MacDonald was in charge over 20 years ago. Although I still think we have a chance of making the top six, it is not a great surprise for anyone who has been following recent developments at Hearts that we are down near the bottom of the league.
If we are to make the top six, we must show a united front, with the supporters getting right behind the players and manager. Starting with this weekend’s clash at home to Inverness – a team who have struggled like ourselves since we beat them in the semi-final – we desperately need two or three back-to-back victories to get us moving. The top six is important for a club like Hearts, obviously for financial reasons, but also because of the enthusiasm it can help generate among supporters going forward. This is a really strange period for Hearts because there’s enthusiasm for the cup final, but it’s tempered by the concern about our league position. You certainly won’t find me criticising John, though – I have total respect for the man.
Regarding off-the-field matters, there’s obviously a worry about Vladimir Romanov’s current situation. You never like to see anyone’s companies going through the trouble Mr Romanov’s are at present, and, as our owner, it is likely that it will have some kind of effect on Hearts. We can only hope it’s an impact that we can ride through, but to do that we will need the help of the supporters who have dug deep so many times to help their club. The worry is that we can only ask them to dig deep so many times. Already families will be forking out for their day out at the cup final next month and now they are being encouraged to buy season tickets early next month, almost five months before next season starts. To me, it’s a bit much to ask of these loyal supporters. It’s a really tricky time for everyone who cares about Hearts. In terms of moving forward, I have personally made my pledge to the Foundation of Hearts because I think that group is the way forward for Hearts long term.