GARY LOCKE today spoke for the first time about enduring criticism from Hearts fans and stressed he would rather take flak from supporters than see it aimed at his young players.
The manager has become a target for some within the Tynecastle support as the club have managed only one league win since August, but Locke said he has no problem with the public carping.
Yesterday’s 2-0 home defeat to Partick Thistle leaves Hearts 19 points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership and staring relegation in the face. Locke cannot sign new players with his club still in administration, whilst injuries, illness and suspensions meant he could name only five substitutes against Partick.
Despite the harrowing circumstances, some fans are pointing the finger at the manager. Locke told the Evening News he is prepared to tolerate a certain amount of criticism if it means he protects his players. “If people want to give me a bit of stick, I’d rather they give it to me than the players,” he said. “We are working with two hands tied behind our backs. It’s very, very difficult. We all deserve stick for yesterday’s first-half performance because it wasn’t good enough.
“There’s not a problem with criticism. If people want to criticise, there aren’t a lot of them. You’ll get one or two but you get that everywhere you go, not just at Hearts. It happens everywhere. If they want to criticise me, then fair enough, criticise me. However, we’re trying our best in very, very difficult circumstances. In any other situation, you would bring in players to try and improve the team but we can’t do that at all.
“We only had five subs yesterday and, when you do see performances like yesterday’s first half, any other manager would make wholesale changes. I’m not in a position to do that because the subs we do have are very young and I’ve got to try and protect them as well.”
Hearts were jeered from the field at half-time yesterday and Locke admitted supporters were right to complain about the first 45 minutes with Partick already 2-0 ahead. “They were completely right to boo. I try to back the players as much as I can but they were rightly booed at half-time,” he continued.
“I had a go at half-time because the first half wasn’t good enough. You saw the importance of players like Danny Wilson and Jamie Hamill, who were missing [through illness and suspension respectively]. I’ll stick up for the boys as much as I possibly can because they are young, but we’ve got to do better than that first half.
“It doesn’t matter the age of the team, we didn’t compete enough in the first half. When we had the ball we didn’t move off the ball enough. Whether that’s a bit of fatigue from the derby, I don’t know. The second half was much better but I said to them at the end of the game ‘you can’t just turn up for 45 minutes and expect to win’.”