Hearts' quarterly report shows the club at a crossroads and team needing direction as patience wears thin

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Fans demanding improvement for the second round of Premiership fixtures

One quarter of the season has passed. It is a time for football chairmen, directors and managers across the country to take stock and evaluate. At Tynecastle Park, Hearts' quarterly report shows a mix of positives and negatives, summed up by a final verdict of 'must do better'.

The first round of cinch Premiership matches ended with last Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Livingston. The Edinburgh club sat fourth in the table following that fixture but slipped to fifth over the weekend when Kilmarnock beat Motherwell. Hearts were busy preparing for Sunday's Viaplay Cup semi-final against Rangers, which ended in a 3-1 defeat.

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Calls for a new manager are audible due to inconsistent results and all-too-frequent passive displays. No Tynecastle coach will be judged against Celtic or Rangers given the vast chasm in financial resources between the Glasgow clubs and the rest. That said, the team should always be able to compete in one-off matches as they did at Ibrox recently.

The failure to beat too many of the Premiership's other sides is a bigger problem which Hearts must address in the next quarter. That begins against Motherwell at Fir Park on Saturday. Hardly a comfortable environment in which to boost morale after a cup semi-final exit. Defeats in the first quarter against Motherwell, Dundee and St Mirren, plus a goalless home draw with Kilmarnock, are lapses still fuelling current frustrations among supporters.

Fans are demanding more passion, energy, aggression and purpose on the field. Signs of all those commodities are detectable from Hearts in fits and starts this term - against Rosenborg, Aberdeen and Hibs, for example - but not enough for a club pertaining to be Scotland's third-best. Losing goals in quick succession during matches is undermining all concerned. Prime examples came against Hibs, Celtic and in both recent Rangers fixtures. Such collapses can't continue.

Head coach Steven Naismith has, like every manager, endured criticism for substitutions and different tactical decisions. Hearts may not have been involved in Sunday's Viaplay Cup semi-final had Naismith not made game-changing subs leading to Alex Lowry's late winning goal at Kilmarnock in the quarter-final. His alterations also won a vital league match at Ross County in the same week. So, again, there are positives and negatives.

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Summer signings is a pertinent topic ahead of the January transfer window. Only the English centre-back Frankie Kent, recruited from Peterborough United, has properly improved the Hearts team from last season. It is arguable that the jury is still out on Costa Rican winger Kenneth Vargas, whose season-long loan from CS Herediano includes a purchase option. Other new arrivals have flattered to deceive for various reasons. As it stands, Josh Ginnelly has not been adequately replaced in attack.

Fans are raising questions about recruitment policy and the Riccarton scouting team. Sporting director Joe Savage does not sign players but is heavily involved in identifying them. If the team is underperforming, recruitment is naturally called into question. It may be that Hearts strengthen some positions in January but there is a lot of football to be played before that point. In total, 27 Premiership points are available from now until the window opens.

Some members of the Tynecastle hierarchy are losing patience with the current direction the team seems to be taking. The lack of momentum in both performances and results is not only felt keenly by the ordinary punter. Hearts lack leadership on the field, which has contributed to those aforementioned collapses. In that sense, goalkeeper Craig Gordon and defender Craig Halkett cannot come back from long-term injury quickly enough.

The Edinburgh club find themselves at a crucial juncture - a crossroads, if you like - with the second round of league matches about to begin. Anything garnered from Rangers and Celtic will be considered a bonus. Beat the other teams in next quarter and Hearts will be fine - very probably sitting pretty in third spot by the season's midway point. Continue to stutter against them and pressure will become intolerable with voices of discontent rising to a deafening din.

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