So much rests on Hearts’ Premiership match with Partick Thistle going ahead on Sunday.
For footballing, public relations and credibility reasons, the Edinburgh club are desperate to ensure Tynecastle Park’s new multi-million-pound main stand opens as planned this weekend.
Work is continuing at a frantic pace to satisfy City of Edinburgh Council and secure the required safety certificate. The final judgment will be later this week, but without the official go-ahead Hearts would be forced to ask the Scottish Professional Football League to postpone Thistle’s visit. That scenario would be yet another setback in an already difficult season. A third delay for the new stand and the subsequent test of public patience is something owner Ann Budge and her board are understandably eager to avoid.
They initially targeted early September to open the stand but were forced to put its unveiling back to November 5 due to seats not being ordered on time. A second postponement because work was not completed gave them the full two-week international break to finish the necessary concourses and make sure signs and facilities were in place safely. Now, failure to open the stand as planned for a third time would further irk supporters tired of the constant wait.
There are also potential consequences for failing to fulfil an SPFL fixture, although league officials have hitherto been sympathetic to Hearts’ predicament by allowing them to reverse matches and play most of their games away from home. It remains to be seen what Partick Thistle’s reaction would be if they were asked to postpone.
So far, they have been told by Tynecastle officials that the stand will be ready on time and that the match will go ahead.
Budge has done a remarkable job restoring Hearts to a position of authority in Scottish football following the financial collapse of 2013. Her drive has seen the club’s recovery from administration exceed expectations in little more than three years. She and other leading figures at Tynecastle won’t want to compromise any more on when the main stand will be ready, because they know it is not good PR.
Patience in the stands is already undergoing a stern test for footballing reasons. Hearts are enduring an unsettled time on the field and are preparing to face Partick Thistle on the back of three successive league defeats against Hibs, Rangers and Kilmarnock.
They currently sit sixth in the Premiership table but are only five points off the division’s relegation play-off. The position of Edinburgh rivals Hibs – the division’s newly-promoted team – ten points ahead does nothing to quell frustrations. In that context, staging Sunday’s game and garnering three points from it would appear crucial.
Three different managers have taken charge of Hearts this season which has also had an unsettling effect on everyone involved. Ian Cathro was sacked after the club exited the Betfred League Cup in July. Ironically, he remains the only man to have managed Hearts at Tynecastle since Robbie Neilson’s tenure ended with a memorable 2-0 win over Rangers there 12 months ago.
Jon Daly took interim charge following Cathro’s departure and remained in situ for four matches before Craig Levein stepped back into the dugout in September. By then, the club had begun a mini series of “home” matches at BT Murrayfield after admitting Tynecastle would not be ready for its initial September 9 reopening.
The temporary home served its purpose with a goalless draw against Aberdeen, a 1-0 win over St Johnstone and then defeats to Rangers and Kilmarnock. Hearts were grateful for the Scottish Rugby Union’s assistance but the craving for home was never far away. Murrayfield, of course, is no longer able to stage football matches over the coming weeks because Scotland international rugby matches are taking place there. It is yet another issue which intensifies the need for Tynecastle to reopen.
The changes in team management combined with playing matches away from Gorgie have made for a unique and surreal campaign so far. Form has been erratic and increased frustrations amongst fans, who jeered the team at the end of their last match – the 2-1 defeat by Kilmarnock at Murrayfield. Injuries have only exacerbated the problems Levein has faced in recent weeks. By his own admission, the manager has been sending out patched-up teams at different times and relying on teenagers to fill in for senior, experienced colleagues.
Riccarton academy kids like 16-year-old Harry Cochrane, 17-year-old Euan Henderson and 18-year-old Daniel Baur look like prodigious talents who, in time, could become first-team regulars. Right now they are boys being asked to do men’s jobs.
Playing Partick and securing a win back at a raucous Tynecastle would help Hearts start to move on from all of the above problems. Their need to secure that safety certificate is growing by the minute.