Daniel Stendel’s patience is wearing thin. Even thinner than the one-point margin which keeps Hearts bottom of the league. The manager has warned his underperforming squad that the time for excuses in their ongoing relegation fight is over. St Mirren tomorrow night is simply must-win.
Questions to the German at Wednesday’s press conference inside Riccarton prompted some bristling responses. He knows the gravity of the situation but is concerned some of his charges still don’t fully appreciate what it will mean if Hearts go down. Reports of dressing-room unrest have been dismissed but are nonetheless hassle Stendel could do without.
He and his players have 11 league games left to save their season and preserve their club’s Premiership status. Supporters deserve better but still turn out in their thousands, goals are being given away cheaply, yet people keep saying they will improve next week.
After Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with ten-man Hamilton Academical, the club directly above Hearts in the table, Stendel is not prepared to wait any longer.
“The first thing is that what we want is not special. It is not Daniel Stendel’s style or German style, it is normal for everybody – in Scotland, Germany, England, every country,” he said. “The main thing is that we all understand how difficult this situation is.
“Maybe I expected everyone to know that because I knew it and I think that everyone knows it in the club more than before but, until Saturday, maybe not all the players understood just how difficult the situation is.
“There were a lot of excuses in the last weeks about pressure or that the players aren’t confident, but this is professional football. You need to handle it. We have when we are in training and before the game, but in the game players need to know that this is their job. We try to find the best players to handle it but we need quality and mentality and we talked with the players about this.
“We need players who understand that it is a big privilege to play for this club. It is not normal that 16,000 or 17,000 come to every game at Tynecastle with the results we have been getting this season. In Germany, with these results, we would get 5,000 or even 2,000 in the stadium if we gave these performances.
“Here, we get the support every week, also in away games, so they are playing for a big club in Scotland and they are all on good contracts here. Everybody can expect them to do all that they can to stay up in this league and win games. This is what I expect and this is what all the supporters expect from professional footballers.”
One win in 11 league games since he arrived at Tynecastle Park has forced Stendel to readjust his own expectancy. He will not compromise any further. “Ask the players. I say easy things,” he continued. “I dropped so much back from my expectation because I see the situation, I see the confidence, I see the quality.
“We have more quality than a lot of other teams in this league but everybody needs to show it in the games. The time that we can say ‘next week, next week, next week’, is over. We have played Ross County, Hamilton and Kilmarnock and we did not win one game. If you expect next week it is all better, it will not happen.”
Pressure builds with each poor result and every contemptible goal conceded. Stendel feels the intensity. “It is normal in this club. I expected more from me, especially in the results. With what we do and how much we work, the quality in our work is good. We are not happy about the results and the results decide whether you are good or not. We can help every player, we can train well, have a good plan, but when we don’t win on a Saturday, the opinion is it was s**t. This is the job.”
Players not featuring much in recent weeks are not happy, but the Hearts management team want to see a determined and defiant reaction.
“We have a big squad. It doesn’t matter if we loan some players out,” explained Stendel. “When you are not winning games and not all players can play, not all are happy. The biggest thing for every player, whether I play them or not, is to bring their best performance in training; bring the best mentality to help this team stay up. This is what I expect from professional players. It doesn’t matter if our situation is not easy. We try to improve everybody but at the moment it’s the results which are important.”
None more so than in Paisley tomorrow. St Mirren are currently three points better off than Hearts as the Premiership’s third-bottom club. Stendel’s plan is straightforward.
“Win this game. It’s not only the players or the manager. We do it together,” he said. “When you watch the last game it’s not a problem of style. It’s that for too long we have been in a comfortable position, where everyone has said: ‘It will happen’, and ‘next week and next week and next week’. And I think this situation is new for a lot of players, especially for players who signed for Hearts.
“The expectation was so different, especially at the start of the season. We had ambitions but at this moment the ambition is so different to what the players expected when they signed a contract here. I know this is a fight until the last game – and I will fight.”