HEARTS boss Gary Locke today admitted that the individual errors which cost them so dear at Rugby Park are making their task of avoiding relegation even more difficult.
Locke was unhappy at the manner in which his side conceded the goals in their 2-0 defeat to Kilmarnock in Ayrshire and warned they must cut out the schoolboy errors or the drop to the Championship is almost inevitable.
It was, in general, a poor performance all round from Hearts and former Rangers striker Kris Boyd was able to cash in on slack play at the back to bag a double as third-bottom Killie stretched their cushion over the Tynecastle side in the SPFL Premiership table to 16 points.
Hearts remain rooted to the foot of the table after being served with a 15-point deduction at the beginning of the season as a result of entering administration during the summer.
At one stage, following a decent start to the season, they had reduced their deficit to seven points and were just eight behind St Mirren. But recent results have seen them slide further away from the teams above them.
Locke says he does not want to hear any more excuses about only having a squad of young players to work with and simply wants to see his side achieve a decent level of performance, week-in, week-out.
Locke said: “I thought that we started off quite well, but we’ve certainly got to do better at the two goals.
“We didn’t deal with the first one – and slipped, which was even worse – and the second one, I thought that Kris got in too easy.
“We can’t keep giving goals away like that because, if we do, then we will never have a chance.
“At the end of the day, we are a bit low on confidence right now and we are working with a group of young players, but we have got to do better.
“We can’t keep making the excuse all the time that we’re a young side.
“Their first goal was just a long ball over the top that we should have been dropping off and dealing with it. There’s no two ways about it.”
Locke is stuck between a rock and a hard place this season – he can see where his side are going wrong, but doesn’t have the resources to go out and make the necessary changes.
Having seen his team rack up some good results in the early part of the campaign, he knows that they are capable of taking points off any team in this league and he wants them to get back to those kinds of performances.
Locke continued: “This is the difficult situation that we are in.
“In an ideal situation you put a couple of young lads into your side and then when they hit a dip in form, you take them back out of the team to protect them.
“We can’t do that here – we don’t have that luxury. At the end of the day, we have got the squad that we have got – it is a young squad – but there is nothing we can do about that.
“We haven’t got a lot of scope for changing things around and we have got to make the most of what we have got. These boys showed earlier in the season what they are capable of and, although we are lacking in confidence a bit at the moment, we will get back to that again.
“The only way we can get back to how we were playing earlier in the season is by sticking together and doing that bit extra. Hopefully we can get back on track.”
After the previous week’s defeat to Motherwell, Hearts badly needed a victory at Rugby Park, but they fell behind after just 16 minutes when Boyd chased a long ball and beat the offside trap – and then both Brad McKay and Danny Wilson inside the box – before slotting home.
Hearts were dealt a blow just a minute later when Stevenson went down holding his right knee after simply clearing the ball.
Although he managed to continue for a little longer he had to eventually admit defeat and was replaced by Callum Paterson.
Killie suffered a blow of their own when, after seven minutes of treatment, Darren Barr was stretchered off in a neck brace just before the half hour mark.
Boyd’s physical presence caused Hearts’ young team problems throughout and, just seconds after Barry Nicholson had gone close with a diving header, the visitors were fortunate to see the former Rangers hitman fire high over the bar after turning away from David Smith.
Locke brought Dale Carrick on at the break in place of Callum Tapping, but still Hearts struggled to get a foothold in the game and Killie made sure of the points with 64 minutes on the clock when Jeroen Tesselaar picked out Boyd and, once again, the striker made no mistake, controlling the ball before slotting beyond Macdonald.
Killie could have added to their tally when Boyd squared into Chris Johnston, who raced towards the box, but his shot was pushed away well by Macdonald for a corner. Tynecastle skipper Wilson reckons that his team should use the memory of Saturday’s game to ensure that Hearts don’t put in such a poor performance again this season.
Wilson was clearly gutted at the end of the match, not only by the result, but also by the overall display.
But with the League Cup quarter-final clash with Hibs to come in just a couple of days’ time, Wilson is keen for Hearts to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get ready to go again. He said: “We need to try to make sure that we use this game to make sure that we don’t play that badly again.
“We have not delivered in the last couple of games and that is a big disappointment for us.
“We won’t let ourselves get too down, though. We have got a big week ahead of us now and we have just got to get on with it.”