Craig Levein: 6 defining games of his second spell in charge at Hearts
After 105 games in charge of Hearts for a second spell, Craig Levein was relieved of his duties. We look back at six defining matches since taking over in 2017.
Hearts 4 - 0 Celtic - 17 December, 2017
Having taken over early in the 2017/2018 season from Ian Cathro, the man whom he appointed, the campaign was plodding at best with the team playing some of their home games at Murrayfield. By December they were back at recently renovated Tynecastle Park and welcomed Brendan Rodgers' invincible Celtic team to town. More than a few Hearts fans passed on the opportunity to attend what they thought was a certain defeat. Yet, a team which included Ross Callachan, Prince Buaben, Connor Randall and Jamie Brandon thumped the Scottish champions 4-0 with an incredible performance that left so many fans speechless, ending their 69-game unbeaten run.
It was one of the few positives of the season. A game where Hearts performed as supporters want them to at Tynecastle, on the front foot with plenty of intensity and desire. It simply wasn't replicated all that often across Levein's time.
Dundee 0 - 3 Hearts - 23 October, 2018
Who could have imagined a Tuesday night in October in Dundee being so joyous? Led by Steven Naismith, the Tynecastle Park side opened up a six-point lead at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership thanks to goals from the aforementioned forward, Oliver Bozanic and Steven MacLean, continuing their fine early season form which brought eight wins from ten games. Plus, the small matter of a Betfred Cup semi final against Celtic to look forward to, backed by around 30,000 Hearts fans.
The team that night was missing key first-team players Peter Haring, John Souttar, Christophe Berra and Uche Ikpeazu due to injury. No one could have predicted that the injury record would only worsen but Levein showed that the squad as a whole were capable of seeing off lesser teams. That's not been the case for a while.
Livingston 5 - 0 Hearts - 14 December, 2018
Many fans saw this as the moment where the club should have parted ways with Craig Levein. Think about it, a 5-0 defeat to Livingston where the team simply capitulated, giving up four goals in seven second-half minutes. The result was bad, of course, but the manner in which it occurred was worse. It pointed to some mentality issues in the team, something which Levein noted at an increasing rate. Players are able to get motivated for matches against the bigger teams but struggle against those they are expected to beat.
The defending, the dig and desire were all worse than amateur. It was the second time in little over a month the side were beaten 5-0, and Hearts didn't respond, losing 2-0 in Aberdeen the following week. The signs were there.
Hearts 1 - 2 Hibs - 6 April, 2019
Hearts hadn't been beaten by their rivals at Tynecastle since 2013. When Paul Heckingbottom's rejuvenated side arrived in Gorgie back in April, 2,155 days had passed since Hibs had tasted victory in EH11 against Hearts - a 2-1 win with goals coming from Leigh Griffiths and Ross Caldwell.
The home side took the lead through Peter Haring but goals either side of the half from Daryl Horgan gave Hibs the three points. When Heckingbottom arrived in February this year Hearts had an 11-point lead over Hibs. The win in April took the Easter Road side above Levein's men. It was yet another staging post on the slide from title contenders to relegation battlers in the space of a year.
Hearts 1 - 2 Celtic - 25 May, 2019
This was supposed to be it. The 2019 Scottish Cup final. Levein's last match in charge of Hearts. Defeat Celtic and Neil Lennon, ending their treble treble hopes, and he leaves a hero, in possession of a winner's medal with a new era beginning in the summer. Lose heavily and the pressure would be such that he couldn't continue. However, neither happened. Hearts put in a spirited performance at Hampden Park, going ahead before losing narrowly.
It was the result no one wanted as everyone drifted off for a much-wanted and much-needed summer break. It was one which was persuasive enough for those above Levein to think that change was on its way after a horrific second-half of the season.
St Johnstone 1 - 0 Hearts - 30 October, 2019
Tommy Wright's St Johnstone hadn't kept a league clean sheet all season. They had conceded seven to Celtic, four to Rangers, two to Ross County, two to St Mirren and two to Hamilton. Hearts pitched up in Perth on Wednesday night with just one league win in 14 visits to McDiarmid Park and proceeded to hit the target just once all game. After going behind with more than 30 minutes remaining, Levein's side didn't threaten once.
It was a feeble showing with little creativity, drive and desire. Qualities which have been lacking for a number of months at Tynecastle Park. As Hearts fans pleaded with Craig Levein to go they finally got their wish.