The Hearts supporters had another difficult day at Tannadice on Saturday and are understandably looking for someone to direct their frustration towards.
However, the two groups of people who should be immune to abuse in our current predicament are the players and the coaching staff. I don’t know how many times I can stress it, but Gary Locke, Billy Brown and his players are being asked to perform a near-impossible task because of the negligence of the previous regime.
I said it at the time and I’ll say it again: we should have gone into administration last season and taken relegation and tried to start afresh in our rebuilding job without the pressure of battling relegation. The powers that be at Tynecastle boasted about how we had an excellent batch of young players coming through who would help us through these difficult times, but the truth is the Hearts academy and the young players who have come through it have been overhyped.
That is meant as no criticism of the current Hearts players. They are all talented boys with good technique and they are giving their all for the cause. But you only have to look at the Dundee United youngsters, in particular Stuart Armstrong, who is a strong-running young boy who controls games, to see how far away some of our players are from being ready for this level.
We have some decent young players but they are suffering badly from being asked to play week in, week out, with no option to take them out of the firing line. Every good Hearts team of my lifetime has had, at most, three young players in the first XI and a core of more experienced boys. This team is the opposite. We have two experienced outfield players and the rest are 22 or under.
That would be fine if there was no pressure on them, but, because they are wearing a maroon jersey, there is automatically massive expectation on them from some of our supporters. This could harm their development and I also worry for the likes of Ryan Stevenson and Jamie Hamill at being asked to carry these youngsters. Playing every week in such a battle against adversity could end up taking a year off their career.
As Gary Locke pointed out, in normal circumstances you would expect to see half the team changed after a 7-0 defeat, but the manager could make only one change because he didn’t have enough options to bring in. I hear fans saying certain players are not playing well and need to be dropped, but there needs to be a reality check. The manager is picking the best players available. If he picks the younger ones, he risks even heavier beatings than the two we have suffered in our last two games. You can’t just chuck any 18-year-old in from the academy for the sake of freshening the team up and expect him to cope. Only a select few will actually prove to be good enough and it’s evident that we’re already playing too many boys who are not ready for first-team football.
However, I thought we were unlucky to lose so heavily on Saturday. We played well in spells and were on the receiving end of some terrible decisions by referee Craig Thomson. Given the result of the previous week, the players showed real character just to come back and get an equaliser. I have massive sympathy for the players and the management.
It’s a minor miracle that we have picked up one more point than Ross County and have a League Cup semi-final to look forward to. Anyone looking for a scapegoat should not be looking towards the players or the coaching staff.