As Hearts head to Dingwall this weekend intent on getting their survival bid back on track against Ross County, they will also be looking to banish what has become a truly abysmal recent away record in the league.
For two and a half years now, Hearts have been the softest touch in Scotland’s top flight whenever they leave the sanctuary of Tynecastle. Their stats on the road are truly eye-watering, with a record of six wins from their last 48 away league games and a paltry return of 29 goals from 41 games pretty much underlining how frail they have become when venturing out of their Capital comfort zone.
The travel sickness first set in in the second half of the 2010/11 season under Jim Jefferies, and neither Paulo Sergio, John McGlynn or – so far, at least – Gary Locke have been able to find a cure.
For a team which has coped well with away matches in cup competitions, while also being consistently strong at home – even under the much-criticised McGlynn they still won half their games at Tynecastle – the sustained period of feckless away showings in the league is as baffling as it is damaging.
While Locke at least has the excuse of being badly hindered by the club’s well-documented off-field problems, he knows Hearts are somehow going to find a way of ending their long-running away malaise if they are to have a chance of eating into the rest of their 15-point deficit and remaining in the Scottish Premiership.
“The away form hasn’t been great over the last few years, so that’s something that we need to change,” said Locke, who has viewed the away slump from close quarters having been a part of the coaching staff throughout until he was promoted to manager last March.
“I wish I could put my finger on it, but I don’t know what the reason is.
“It’s certainly something we’ll need to sort out if we are to stay in the league, there’s no doubt about that.”
The last period when Hearts could be considered a genuine force away from home was some three years ago, when they won eight out of nine games on the road under Jefferies to briefly hoist themselves into title contention.
Before that, they were a similarly timid bunch to what they are now, winning only four of their 19 games in the 2009/10 season under Csaba Laszlo. In the previous season, when they finished third under the Hungarian, they won only five.
Yet all the while, they’ve been a solid proposition within the confines of Tynecastle.
While Hearts’ form in Gorgie remains impressive, even throughout the crippling adversity they are currently having to withstand, Locke knows his side cannot continue to rely solely on home points to save them from relegation.
Having endured more frustrating journeys home from away matches than he’d care to remember over the past few years, the manager is working tirelessly to ensure the club’s long-suffering travelling support are given some reason for cheer over the coming weeks and months.
“It’s always important to win your home games, but at the same time we need to pick up points on the road,” he said. “It’s something we’re working extremely hard to try and rectify. It would make a huge difference if we could start getting a few more away wins as well as continue winning our home games.
“If we can do that, it means we’re hitting a wee bit of consistency in terms of picking up points, which is what we need. If we’re going to close the gap on teams above us, we need to put a run together at some point.
“We have to go on a run of six or seven games where we’re picking up points every week, home and away. It’s as simple as that. If we were able to improve our away form, it would take the pressure off our home games a wee bit.
“We want to make sure Tynecastle’s a difficult place to come to, but if we could pick up points on the road as well, it would give us a chance of staying up.”
There can be few teams who have had such a significant disparity between their home and away form as Hearts over the past few years.
It could be down to any number of factors, such as a lack of pace on the counter-attack, a shortage of clinical strikers to take the reduced amount of chances that come their way in away games, or simply that the players find it harder to rouse themselves when not driven on by a pumped-up Tynecastle crowd.
Whatever the cause, they could desperately do with finding a remedy in time for Saturday’s long trip to the Highlands.