Arnaud Djoum is well aware of the sense of negativity among sections of the Hearts support following a chastening start to the season which has brought three consecutive defeats in different competitions.
However, the Belgian talisman is adamant there is enough quality and mental strength in the Tynecastle dressing-room to ride out the mini-storm that has engulfed head coach Robbie Neilson and his squad after losses to Birkirkara, Celtic and St Johnstone.
Although disappointment prevails, particularly in the wake of the Europa League and Betfred Cup exits, Djoum believes Hearts are only a few minor tweaks away from igniting and enjoying another fruitful campaign.
“It’s normal that the fans have this kind of reaction,” the midfielder told the Evening News as he reflected on the post-McDiarmid Park fallout. “This is a big club so that’s why there is a lot of pressure when you lose games. All the players and staff understand that.
“I had the same problem when I was in Holland. At times like this, the experienced players like myself have to help the young players because it can be hard to deal with. You need to stay strong and keep working hard. We know the fans are disappointed but, as players, we give everything to try and win the game. When you put so much into it and play well, like we did against Celtic and St Johnstone, and don’t get the result, the frustration is very hard to deal with. That is twice now that we have played well and not got the result. The difference between winning and losing is very tight and unfortunately at the moment the small details are going against us. We are playing well but we have to make sure we don’t make the small mistakes that stop us winning games.
“We just have to keep working hard and the results will come. We train together every single day and I know we have a lot of quality here. We still have confidence because we know how good the squad is. Once we get the first win, I think we will be fine after that.”
The Hearts players were visibly distraught as they trooped out of McDiarmid Park following Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat by St Johnstone. They had hoped to make an impact in the cups this season but were undone by slackness in the last 17 minutes after leading 2-1 and seemingly looking on course for the quarter-finals.
“It was very bad in the dressing-room because everybody was really disappointed,” said Djoum. “It was similar to what it was like after the Birkirkara game. With the squad we have, we believe we can win trophies. The gap between us and the top teams is not big, as we saw on Sunday when the difference between us and Celtic was almost nothing. We could have had a run in the Europa League or won the League Cup, so we are really disappointed at how it has gone.”
Amid the despair and the clamour to criticise Neilson and his players, Djoum has called for perspective to be retained as his side prepare to head for Pittodrie tomorrow in search of a fourth consecutive victory over Aberdeen.
“The team won the league two years ago and finished third last year but you sometimes you go through periods when you don’t win all the time,” he said. “That’s football. You just have to be strong and stay together. We’ve had a hard start to the season. It was the first time in Europe for this group and then we had a hard start with Celtic, St Johnstone and now Aberdeen. But you have to accept that and try and get the best results possible. Sometimes people say it’s better to play badly and win games, but we’ve been playing well and losing. We now have to try and play well but also get the result at Aberdeen. We’ve won our last three games against Aberdeen, which gives us confidence. A win there would be good at this time.”
Djoum leapt to the defence of Neilson, who has come under fire from sections of the support. The Belgian scoffed at the suggestion among some critics that he can be too cautious. “No, not at all,” he responded, with some bemusement, when it was suggested that Neilson may ask Hearts to sit back at certain points in games. “He always wants us to press high and create chances. If you see the other teams in Scotland, a lot of them sit back and wait. We don’t. We try to press high, win the ball back, play small passes and try to create chances. The way we play is the right way to play. We try to play football, unlike a lot of teams. That’s why I like it here. The gaffer is a really good gaffer. He gives us a lot of confidence. He does everything he can in terms of preparation. The gaffer is really close to us and does everything he can to help us. There is no problems in the squad whatsoever. If one of us make a mistake in a match, it is not the fault of the gaffer. We just need to try and be resolute and focused. We’re not playing badly – it’s only the results we are missing. If those small details change, everything will be fine again.”