If anyone was in any doubt, yesterday’s defeat in Perth highlighted the level of realism that all Hearts supporters will require this season.
Make no mistake, if we can survive in the Scottish Premiership this season with the squad that we have, Gary Locke will have done a better job than our Scottish Cup-winning bosses, Jim Jefferies, Valdas Ivanauskas and Paulo Sergio.
It was a particularly hard opener for us because we were against a buoyant St Johnstone side, who would probably have been lifted further by playing in front of a crowd that was slightly bigger than they usually get at McDiarmid. We were solid enough and worked hard enough, but, given the problems we had scoring goals last season even with a stronger squad, it wasn’t a great surprise that we struggled to get a shot on goal yesterday. We are in this predicament because of the dreadful mismanagement at the club over the past few years, and we have to accept our punishment. However, in trying to get back on our feet, we could do worse than aspire to be run in the manner of yesterday’s opponents. For me, St Johnstone epitomise how a professional football club in Scotland should be run and are unlikely to be anywhere near the relegation battle that we find ourselves embroiled in.
In trying to stay up, we are going to be reliant on other teams enduring a bit of turmoil. I’d be looking towards the likes of Kilmarnock, who have lost a lot of key players, St Mirren, who suffered a bad defeat on Saturday, and Partick, simply because they’re the newly-promoted team in the division. There’s also the chance that our city rivals might struggle, if their start to the season is anything to go by. Hopefully we can try and cling on to the coat-tails of these teams for as long as possible and at least give ourselves a glimmer of hope.
Whoever we beat first this season automatically becomes the team that we should target because we will have proved that we are capable of beating them and then, as a result, are hopefully capable of catching them. It might be that we are simply incapable of catching any other team, though. That scenario is a very real possibility and every Hearts fan needs to realise that.
There’s been so much said and written about whether or not we can overcome this 15-point deficit, but it will take a truly unbelievable effort to stay up. You only have to look at how much a far stronger Hearts squad struggled last season to see that this is not an easy league to pick up points in. Last year we had the likes of Danny Grainger, Marius Zaliukas, Andy Webster, John Sutton and Darren Barr – all experienced, proven SPL players – and we still finished in the bottom six, so it’s going to be even harder for this young team, most of whom remain totally unproven at first-team level.
The Hearts supporters have shown truly magnificent loyalty and dedication ever since the share issue was first launched last November. We need that to continue for as long as possible, but, if we’re being honest, it will probably only last for as long as they see a bit of hope from what the team do on the park.
Already, just two games into the season, we are faced with a massive Edinburgh derby for both teams, but for very different reasons. I’m not sure it will be a classic football match, but it’s one that I wouldn’t miss for the world. I’m hopeful we can get a result but, as things stand, I don’t think any Hearts fan can go into any match this season with any genuine expectancy. This season’s going to be a long, tough struggle.