Kilmarnock 3-0 Hearts final word: Manager needed quickly as Michael Smith rips into team's mentality
Jambos are dicing with danger at the foot of Premiership
The first 16 minutes at Rugby Park probably epitomised the disarray at Hearts right now. Managerless and disjointed, they were ruthlessly exposed as Kilmarnock sailed into a 3-0 lead driven by the outstanding 35-year-old Chris Burke.
A 5-2 home win over St Mirren prior to the international break raised the question of whether interim manager Austin MacPhee might replace the sacked Craig Levein permanently at Tynecastle Park. His chances were hindered severely by a defeat which leaves Hearts joint-bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership alongside St Mirren, Hamilton and St Jonhstone.
Burke lashed the first goal into the top corner from an acute angle before crossing for Eamonn Brophy to powerfully head home the second. The diminutive winger then finished off a solo run with a controlled finish into the bottom corner. With 16 minutes on the clock, Hearts were dead and buried.
They need a manager in quickly – one who can galvanise, organise and motivate. Owner Ann Budge is correct to do due diligence on potential replacements but, to be brutally frank, if results do not improve then Hearts will be facing the very realistic possibility of relegation.
Defender Michael Smith’s assessment of the afternoon hinted at players needing to change mindset. “To say the start killed us is an understatement,” he explained. “It was a crazy six minutes. We came here with a gameplan but we didn’t execute it on the pitch. In the first 15 minutes we were wide open and made some stupid decisions which cost us. That was the game dead and buried there. They sat in and made it hard for us to break down.
“I think maybe it was a mentality problem. We shouldn’t lack confidence as we did well against St Mirren in our last game. We should have been on a high. Maybe we thought it would be easier than it was. It has always been tough when I’ve been here before. It was always going to be a tough day but it was really poor for us.”
There was no attempt by Smith to lay any blame at the feet of MacPhee. The interim manager substituted Aaron Hickey at the interval after he complained of a tight groin but the 17-year-old left-back had been tormented by Burke during the first half. “Every loss is down to the players. It is solely on us. We were very poor right from the off. I could sense we were just not at the races,” added Smith.
“We are only one loss away from being at the bottom again. We need to pull our finger out and everyone must realise we are in a scrap at the bottom. We have the quality to get out but it is a mentality problem again. We had the same tactics and the same personnel but it didn’t happen for us. We had to change it ourselves but we didn’t look like getting back in the game.”
Looming large on the horizon is a frenetic December when Hearts face eight games in total. Entering such a demanding period without an established manager would be risky to say the least, although playing staff must wait until Budge finds the right recruit.
“Ann has made a decision to take her time and it is a big decision. I support that and whatever she decides in the end we will be fully behind,” said Smith. “When a manager gets sacked there is always a bit of chaos around the club. The new manager might not like you so you have to make sure you do your best because whoever comes in will be watching us and keeping an eye on us.”
If that is indeed the case, many of the Hearts team on Saturday might struggle to get a game under the next regime. Smith is one who at least got pass marks, although he left the stadium beleaguered after a hard week.
Despite scoring a stunning first international goal for Northern Ireland in Germany on Tuesday evening, he found himself on the wrong end of a 6-1 thumping. Then came Saturday’s dejection.
“I had a fantastic seven minutes! After that it was a bit of a disaster,” he said of his midweek exploits. “It has been a crazy week but when I got back from international duty my head was very much on Hearts. For whatever reason it didn’t happen and now it is back to the drawing board for Rangers next week.”