Hearts captain Steven Naismith explains team's mental issues in relegation battle and speaks on wage cuts for him and full squad

Tynecastle veteran questions mental strength for drop fight
Hearts captain Steven Naismith.Hearts captain Steven Naismith.
Hearts captain Steven Naismith.

Hearts captain Steven Naismith has admitted that the Hearts squad is ill-equipped mentally to deal with the pressures of a relegation battle.

The Jambos currently lie bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership, four points adrift of 11th-placed Hamilton Accies with eight matches remaining.

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Football has not been played in Scotland since March 11, when Hearts lost 1-0 to St Mirren, due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. And with little chance of a quick resumption to football, it is unclear what will happen to Hearts’ position in the top-flight, with all leagues in the country expect the Premiership already settled.

If that same fate befalls the Premiership, Hearts will be demoted to the Championship unless current talks on league reconstruction bear fruit and keep them in the Premiership, but in the event of the season restarting, Naismith says the Hearts squad have to learn how to deal with fighting for survival.

“We have good players with a lot of natural ability,” said Naismith, in a wide-ranging interview on Everton’s official website.

“We beat Rangers the last two times we played them and won against Hibs.

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“But the teams around us know how to deal with the pressure and stay up.

“Our squad needs to understand it quickly or it will be a big problem when we get back playing.”

Former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Norwich forward Naismith was one of the first players to agree to a pay cut at the Tynecastle club, slashing his wages by 50 per cent. However, he understands why it took so long for some of his team-mates to come to an agreement with Hearts owner Ann Budge.

“It was an easy decision,” continued Naismith.

“I understand from when I was at Rangers, some of the young boys, or boys on not a lot of money, won’t be able to just chop their wages. It would be unfair to ask them.

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“If I’d just come out and said, ‘I am taking a pay cut’, the amount of pressure that puts on players … I was very conscious to not let that happen.

“The dressing room is full of good guys who want to help and make a contribution if they can.

“But they need to be sensible and consider themselves.

“As you go down the leagues, footballers don’t earn fortunes and their jobs last until their mid-30s, 40 at best.”

Naismith also revealed how tough it was watching Hearts drop from first place in the league at the start of the 2018/19 season to then mid-table obscurity.

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The 33-year-old was a key performer as Hearts went six points clear at the summit in October 2018, but he then picked up a knee injury and the team, then managed Craig Levein, fell away dramatically from the business end of the league.

“That period at Hearts was the toughest it’s been having to watch games,” added Naismith.

“We dropped like a stone.

“That start showed the potential we have but, to be honest, it’s gone from bad to worse – which massively frustrates me.”

Naismith’s full interview, which discusses the whole of his career, can be read at www.evertonfc.com.