HEARTS are growing tired of all these six-year waits. After visiting McDiarmid Park and Fir Park recently looking for their first win in six seasons, they confront the same hoodoo in Inverness tomorrow.
September 2010 was the last time the Edinburgh club brought three points back from the Highland Capital. Scorers in the 3-1 win that day were Ryan Stevenson, Calum Elliot and a Chris Innes own goal.
Striving to banish unwanted records on the road is a common theme for Hearts just now. Their fortunes remain mixed. They ended the wait for a win at Motherwell but the poor run at St Johnstone continued. Wednesday night’s feeble defeat away to Kilmarnock underlines the unpredictability which accompanies them whenever they leave the Capital.
Inverness will welcome the chance to avenge their 5-1 thumping at Tynecastle in August. They are enjoying a little renaissance having lost only one of eight matches since that reverse in Gorgie. While Hearts suffered a 2-0 loss in Ayrshire in midweek, Richie Foran was overseeing a resounding 3-0 win for Inverness at Fir Park. The Irishman has steered the Highlanders from bottom to sixth in the Ladbrokes Premiership in just over two months.
All of which makes Hearts’ task that touch more awkward tomorrow. The Caledonian Stadium is just the latest venue where winning has become a rare occurrence for those in maroon.
“Jesus. I’ve heard that a few times this season,” said midfielder Don Cowie. “Motherwell, St Johnstone and now Inverness. Records are there to be broken but one thing’s for sure – if we perform like we did at Rugby Park we’ll get nothing tomorrow. We really need to have a look at ourselves.”
Missing the chance to leapfrog Aberdeen into second place irked the 33-year-old. “Tomorrow is a tough game and it’s a quick turnaround after Wednesday night. We’ve just got to get over that performance,” he continued.
“We’ve spoken about what went wrong and how we can deal with that in the future if it happens again. We need to react now.
“The motivation for us is Wednesday night. We’re fortunate in a way that we’ve got a game so quickly so it’s a chance to put it right. Wednesday was a big opportunity for us to lay down a marker in this league and we’ve fallen short. It’s up to us to get back into it and put a run together again.”
Cowie’s return to Inverness for the first time as an opposition player is a side note.
“I’ve never gone back there and played as an opposition player. It will be different. I’ve got some great memories of playing there for Inverness. They are a club that just keep churning it out and I’m sure they’ll do the same this year.”
Foran is following in the footsteps of the likes of Craig Brewster, Terry Butcher and John Hughes as a manager who can help Inverness thrive with miniscule finances. One of his shrewdest signings to date has been the former Hearts defender Brad McKay, who has played both right-back and centre-back for his new club.
Hearts winger Billy King is on loan to Inverness for the season but, like the game at Tynecastle, won’t play against his parent club as per the terms of the agreement.
“Inverness got a tremendous result away to Motherwell. They’ll still be hurting after the last game when we beat them 5-1,” explained Cowie. “Since then, they’ve turned things around. They’re comfortably mid-table now. I said at the time that Richie Foran would get things right and he obviously has.
“I don’t think Billy can play and, although Brad isn’t someone I’ve come across, he’s ex-Hearts so he’ll be looking to do well. Inverness will go into the game confident after a great win at Motherwell.”
By contrast, Hearts need some reinvigoration after the experience in Ayrshire. Wednesday’s performance ranks as poor as any under Robbie Neilson’s command and Cowie is honest enough to acknowledge so.
Kilmarnock’s high-pressing and aggressive style of play caught the visitors by surprise slightly and they didn’t combat the energy of their hosts.
“Basically, too many of us under performed,” was Cowie’s simple assessment. “At this level, if you’ve got seven or eight players who aren’t up to scratch, you’re going to lose the game. That’s what happened. We’re disappointed. We knew how big a game it was and where it could have taken us in the league had we won. That’s why we’re devastated with both the result and the performance.”
Rather than put it to bed and focus solely on the imminent task at hand up north, Hearts have spent a fair amount of time over the past 24 hours dissecting what went wrong at Rugby Park.
“You’ve got to analyse it because Kilmarnock probably did something to us that not many teams have done so far this season. They showed great energy and pressed us at every opportunity. You have to give them a lot of credit. They obviously had a game plan and it worked perfectly for them.
“As players, we’ve got to see that happening and try to do something else. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. We’re an honest bunch of players and we all know it wasn’t good enough.”
So tomorrow is as much about reacting to Wednesday night as it is about ending a long wait for a result in Inverness. Cowie believes Hearts have the wherewithal to kill two birds with one stone and respond with a victory.
“We’ve responded well so far when we’ve been beaten this season. We lost away at St Johnstone and we responded well after that.
“The main reason we’re disappointed is we feel we have a right good team in that dressing room. When we perform like we did at Kilmarnock, it’s not good enough for us or for the fans.”