Hearts players have been letting managers and fans down - it is time to take responsibility
When results are poor and performances substandard it is the manager who more often than not takes the brunt of the criticism. It is part and parcel of football and management.
That is very much the case at Hearts.
On Saturday, fans gathered outside Tynecastle before the Queen of the South match demanding the departure of Robbie Neilson Pressure only intensified that evening following the 3-2 loss to the Doonhamers in calamitous fashion, coming days after the 2-1 Scottish Cup defeat to Brora Rangers.
The merits of the manager and owner Ann Budge have been debated and poured over. In football, unlike in normal life, problems have found a way to roll uphill.
Neilson will know he is always going to be the fall guy. The face of the team, the leader. The person who picks the team and sets out the tactics.
Listening to fans, there are various concerns raised about the direction of the club on and off the field, but some of those aired regarding performances include: a lack of identity, a lack of playing style, a lack of excitement, tactical inflexibility and a lowering of standards – eking out draws with the likes Greenock Morton and Arbroath considered nowhere near good enough before you even get to the last two results.
Some of those concerns are valid, while others are not as cut and dry.
Tactical inflexibility for instance. Neilson’s favoured formation is 4-2-3-1 but he has not been wedded to it, changing to a back three for the Scottish Cup final and against Queen of the South, while also playing a diamond. That’s before you get into the tweaks he makes during matches.
Unable to strike a tune
There is, however, no getting away from the fact Hearts, despite their 13-point lead at the top of the Championship, are underperforming and have been for large parts of the campaign. And last season. And two thirds of the one previous.
Neilson is the latest in a line of managers who have been unable to coax a tune out of a number of these players, while adding his own recruits, some of whom have also struggled.
And there is perhaps the biggest failure, certainly on a week by week basis. The performance of players, individually and collectively.
To a certain extent they have been shielded by the focus on their manager, present and past.
Take Saturday for example. After the match, many of the questions Neilson faced related to his job, being under pressure, fan protest.
He had just witnessed his players ship three goals, each with its own degree of farce.
The point of Logan
There are understandable reasons behind the recent signing of Shay Logan, even if, with only five games until the end of the season, some may query ‘what’s the point?’ The point may be: ‘If you are going to continue to underperform, you won’t play, no matter the situation’.
There is a pertinent question surrounding the club’s recruitment. Still, on paper, across these past three seasons, the squad has been better than a sixth-place finish, a 12th-place finish and the least memorable title tilt of all time.
On the pitch, they simply haven’t been good enough.
You look at Craig Halkett. Signed after a hugely influential spell as Livingston captain as part of a back three, he, more than former team-mate Declan Gallagher, seemed prime for Scotland recognition in the future.
Mihai Popescu was a very positive signing for St Mirren and looked to be a shrewd pick-up from Neilson.
Gary Mackay-Steven was a marquee recruit in January. On his day one of the most vibrant and thrilling attackers in Scottish football.
Captain Steven Naismith has, so often during his time at Tynecastle, been vital to the functioning of the team.
Christophe Berra may have had his doubters in the Premiership but was excellent on loan at Dundee in the Championship last season.
Jamie Walker has consistently shown his quality off the bench.
The list could go on.
What if there had been fans
Fans have often had to hear about players talking about the privilege of playing for Hearts and how big the club is. They have a funny way of showing it over the months and years.
It would be fascinating to see how this team would have reacted if fans were in the stadium. For so many teams they have clearly been missed, but it is hard to make that argument for Hearts.
Perhaps the demands of the supporters would increase standards, drive them on, the tension of failing to deliver sharpening focus.
Realistically that wouldn’t have been the case. You look at the best performances and results across the past 12-15 months. Wins over Rangers and Hibs, running Celtic close in the Scottish Cup final and the opening Championship game with the tails very much up.
But the vast majority of the games, there’s been the pressure of being strong favourites, an expectation of not only winning but doing so in a manner which engages fans.
Tynecastle is one of the most unforgiving grounds in Scotland for home players. When you fail to deliver, prepare to be disparaged.
Make a breakthrough, get the fans on your side and players would be revered and remembered for years, bathing in the warmth of what the Hearts support has to offer.
Currently, however, another revamp is on the cards and with it goes the chance for many of the current squad to reach such a position within the eyes of the supporters.
By which time they could already have cost Neilson his job, despite stating they are 100 per cent behind the manager.
As former Manchester United player Ander Herrera once said: “When a manager is sacked, for me it’s also the responsibility of the players.”
It is time for the players of Heart of Midlothian to show some of that responsibility before it gets to such a stage.