There must now be a genuine doubt in the Hearts players’ minds whenever they go away from home because they continue to underperform on the road. We showed nothing at all at Aberdeen on Friday.
We had no width in our team and carried no threat. Euan Henderson, Steven Naismith and Kyle Lafferty are all attacking players but there was nobody able to supply them in good areas. Lewis Moore is a natural wide player but he was deployed, unfortunately for him, as a wing-back. From what we’ve seen of him so far, his best qualities are going forward, but the nature of the game meant the vast majority of his duties involved defending. I know injuries have had an impact on what team the manager is able to put out, but we never looked like laying a glove on Aberdeen on Friday. I barely remember us getting into the Aberdeen penalty area, never mind threatening their goalkeeper.
We’ve been reliant on our strong home form this season but, even if we were to take a slight dip at Tynecastle and we’re not able to turn our away form round next season, then we’ll be in real trouble.
The manager says he doesn’t know why we can’t replicate our away form at home, but it must be said that even though our results have been good at Tynecastle, I wouldn’t say we’ve been particularly impressive, outwith a couple of games. I know there is likely to be a big turnover of players over the summer, but there is currently no sign of us getting any better away from home, which is a real concern.
There is very little about Hearts at the moment that is enthusing the supporters. The stuff about the academy flourishing is all well and good, but that will only be vindicated once we have young players making a genuine impact in the Premiership and playing a part in a Hearts team challenging at the top of the league. As things stand, we are being left behind by Aberdeen, Hibs and even Kilmarnock, and the way things are going, I only see those teams pulling further away from us next season.
I find it hard to be overly optimistic about the prospect of any significant improvement in our plight over the summer. I look at the five teams above us and I don’t envisage any of them regressing significantly next season, and unless we radically change our approach to away games, I can’t see us being much better no matter which players we sign this summer. We are about to enter our fifth year since emerging from administration and we are still only a mid-table Premiership team. Yes, we had a great first two seasons under Robbie Neilson, but since he left we have performed poorly with more high-profile players than what Robbie was working with. Our team on Friday night was full of relatively big-name internationalists, but as a unit we were really poor.
It goes without saying that this summer is massively important, but I’m pretty sure I was writing exactly the same thing a year ago. It’s not as straightforward as simply recruiting good players, because we’ve generally done that over the past year. No-one would argue that the likes of Steven Naismith, Christophe Berra, David Milinkovic, Kyle Lafferty and Demetri Mitchell are not good players, but fundamentally we need to change the way we approach football matches. We were all enthused when we beat Celtic 4-0 by getting in their faces and being aggressive and fearless, but we’ve not seen much of that since then, especially away from home.
As a very small aside, Kilmarnock probably scored more goals against Hibs on Saturday than we’ve had shots on target in our two trips to Easter Road this season. It’s a small, pernickety point, but it sums up why this season has been so underwhelming.