Gary Locke today rued the fact he is unable to withdraw some of his confidence-shorn players from the firing line – although the Hearts manager was in no mood to make excuses for his side’s most dismal league performance of the season against Kilmarnock yesterday.
The depleted Jambos crashed to their heaviest defeat of the Premiership campaign when they lost 4-0 at home to relegation rivals Kilmarnock in front of an impressive Boxing Day crowd of more than 13,000.
Locke was once again forced to field a starting XI containing eight players aged 21 and under and he watched on in horror as his team unravelled in spectacular fashion as Kilmarnock eased into a 2-0 lead in a one-sided first half before adding another two goals after the break.
The manager would like to give some of his demoralised youngsters a much-needed rest, but, with only more teenagers whose development could be hindered by being thrown into such a difficult situation, he has no option but to soldier on and hope the current embattled group have enough resilience to somehow turn the tide after a six-game run without a victory.
“One or two players are a bit short on confidence and in an ideal world I’d pull them out for a few games but we’ve not got the squad big enough to make wholesale changes,” said Locke, whose side face a daunting trip to on-form St Mirren on Sunday. “They’re just going to have to dig in and try and get through it.”
While Locke accepts that his team are being pushed to the limit by the demands of a unique situation, he feels he and the Hearts support are entitled to expect better than what was served up yesterday. He lamented a lack of bravery among his players and cited apprehension to get on the ball as the main cause of their latest setback. With his side 14 points adrift of Ross County at the foot of the table, he is demanding an urgent response.
“Apart from Celtic in the Scottish Cup, that’s pretty much the first time we’ve been rolled over this season, so it’s really hard to take,” said the manager. “We’ve got to compete better than we did in the first half. To play here [at Tynecastle] you’ve got to be brave and take the ball. We can pass the ball but too many times when a Hearts player had the ball they didn’t have enough options. That’s mostly down to a lack of confidence but the only way you can get through that is by digging in. If we’re going to give ourselves any chance, we need to start getting some victories. The only way we’re going to get victories is by everybody working hard and sticking together, especially without the ball.”
Locke has always been loathe to publicly castigate his young team, but yesterday crossed the line of what he deems acceptable from a side wearing Hearts jerseys. “With them being so young you’ve got to try and watch [how critical you are],” he said. “But sometimes you’ve got to be honest and that’s the one thing I will always be. I just felt that too many times when we had the ball, the man in possession didn’t have enough options, and we’ve certainly got to do better. A big support came out expecting more from us but it was a day to forget. The only positive is that Ross County got beat but we can’t keep saying that if we’re slipping up ourselves every week.”