HEARTS have little choice other than keeping the faith right now. Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald acknowledged today what everyone has been thinking since full-time at Fir Park on Saturday: Losing is realistically not an option at Kilmarnock this weekend.
Defeat to Motherwell, coupled with wins for St Mirren and Kilmarnock, leaves Hearts now 13 points adrift at the foot of the Scottish Premiership. The weekend past was by far their most damaging to date this season, particularly given they surrendered a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 in Lanarkshire. Yet there is no alternative. They simply must keep believing relegation can be avoided.
The most pressing priority is halting the recent malaise. Since a 2-1 win over Aberdeen in late August, Hearts have lost five league matches and drawn one. They head to Kilmarnock in five days for a fixture of monumental importance against one of few teams they could realistically catch.
“Chipping away slowly at the points deficit is fair enough but after ten games teams are pulling away from us,” said MacDonald. “We need to start reining them back in again. Kilmarnock away is a game we can’t lose now.
“It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we did get beat. There’s still a long way to go. We’re on a bad run and we just need that win. We can’t concentrate on other teams just now.
“It’s up to us to win games and we’ve not been doing that. We had a great start but the last five or six games have been very disappointing. There is still a long way to go but we need to start winning. We haven’t won in six matches now. We’re actually competing well and we were well in the game on Saturday. If we’d come away with a victory, it wouldn’t have been a shock. It was a very close game. Even a point would have been a good result.
“We’ve come away with nothing, just like the Ross County game a few weeks ago. There have been so many games this season where we’ve competed well and got in front. Then lapses in concentration and we come away with nothing.
“We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot right now. It’s something we have to rectify very quickly. There are 28 games to go so there are plenty points. If there were eight games to go then you’re gone. It’s still a long time to go, but we need to start winning. Even if it’s only every other game and gradually making ground like we did at the start of the season.”
Ryan Stevenson’s 62nd-minute opening goal at Fir Park came from a breakaway started by substitute Scott Robinson. However, concerted Motherwell pressure throughout the second half told on Hearts. The equaliser was a screamer from 19-year-old league debutant Craig Moore. He lashed the ball into MacDonald’s top corner from fully 25 yards with his first touch just seconds after entering the field as substitute.
Then came the winner seven minutes from full-time. Shaun Hutchinson, having earlier had a header cleared off the Hearts goal line by Callum Tapping, powered another headed effort into the net from a corner.
“It’s a hard one to take. I seem to be saying the same things every week,” said Gary Locke, the Hearts manager. “I certainly felt we played well enough, playing against a really good side and we more than matched them for 90 minutes.
“We went a goal ahead and at that stage I thought we were playing well, passing the ball well and getting the ball forward well. We looked really dangerous on the counter- attack.
“There is nothing you can do about the first goal, it’s probably the best substitution Macca [Motherwell manager Stuart McCall] will make all season. The boy comes on and first kick of the ball, 30 yards, top corner. But I’m disappointed with the second one, we have got to defend corners better than that.”
McCall’s team passed the ball crisply and kept possession well during the match. Even after going 1-0 down, their philosophy did not change. They reaped the rewards eventually and McCall explained why he had confidence that his players would come good.
“The first half was fairly equal but we knew there was more to come from us,” he said. “We’ve come from behind a couple of times this season. We forced lots of corners, they kicked one off their goal line and the goalie made some good saves.
“Just when you thought a goal was coming, it happened at the other end. They caught us on the break, there was a little bit of a deflection and the ball snuck inside the post. It was a time to show character. We have a good dressing-room with good experience but it was a youngster who got us back on track.
“Moore’s got a fantastic appetite for the for the game, a great attitude. I’m so pleased for him and his family that his first touch in league football ends up in the back of the net.
“I thought it was a result we deserved with the pressure we had but I thought Hearts’ youngsters were superb. They got great backing from the crowd and showed terrific spirit. I’m feeling for Lockie. I think this has happened to them a few times this season. They were so near but it just wasn’t there for them.”