“The message is loud and clear: We need to do much better on Sunday.” Craig Levein is still angry following a tepid Hearts performance against Rangers. He won’t accept a repeat at Easter Road, and nor does he anticipate one.
The Hearts manager left his players in no doubt about the need for improvement as they prepare to travel across Edinburgh for a derby at the home of their bitter rivals. They were too passive against Rangers at Tynecastle Park last weekend, resulting in a comfortable 3-1 victory for the Glasgow club.
If supporters were frustrated watching their side concede sloppy goals and come second best in many areas of the field, Levein would have been seething. He has since mellowed somewhat but the indignation hasn’t shifted. He takes his team to Leith seeking a second victory there this season and knows performance levels must increase dramatically to enable that achievement.
“I was slightly annoyed, to say the least, that we didn’t do what we normally do at Tynecastle in these bigger games by pressing the life out of the opposition. We just never really got going at all,” he told the Evening News. “We’re fine for this weekend. We’ve gone over the footage and looked at what we could do better.
“There were two things: Energy and positioning. The players felt their heads were a bit cloudy with some of the starting positions. Because of that, they couldn’t make up the ground and when they did try to make up the ground they got passed around. That happens.
“Losing goals obviously clouds people’s heads. We gave the ball away in dangerous areas and Rangers were obviously very hyped up for the match. More so than us, which is unusual. That was a frustration so we’ve spoken about it this week and had a look at the video. Some of it is easily fixable but I was more irritated by the fact we didn’t run as much or as hard as Rangers did.
“I can always forgive people for making mistakes but I’m not so keen on turning a blind eye to the fact we were outworked by the opposition. We wouldn’t expect the same thing this week but the fact it happened at all irritates me as much as anything. It’s not so much about who it was against.
“There have been games where we haven’t played well but usually, when I look at all the match stats, we are at least as competitive and cover as much distance as our opponents. This time we didn’t. I’m treating it as a one-off but the message is loud and clear: We need to do much better on Sunday. The players are annoyed at themselves so I’m hoping we will see a reaction.”
Hibs’ 2-1 victory at Tynecastle just three weeks ago may afford them a psychological advantage ahead of Sunday’s meeting. Levein was satisfied with Hearts’ performance that day, however, and will be content with a repeat.
“I thought we were very unfortunate not to take something from the Hibs game at Tynecastle. We had loads of chances, particularly in the first half. To come away from the game having lost left me feeling aggrieved. Not with the way we played or our attitude or anything like that. Just that we didn’t get what we deserved for our efforts, good play and chances created. That’s football. Sometimes that happens.
“I’d much rather go home at night having lost a match in the manner we did against Hibs at Tynecastle than how we did against Rangers on Saturday. If I get the same performance again as I got against Hibs last time, then I’ll be happy because I think that performance will be good enough to win the game.”
He won’t necessarily impart his own sense of grievance from that match to his squad over the next few days. Hearts’ focus will be on affecting the match at Easter Road and on how they plan to trouble Hibs.
“Some players react to that and others don’t. Some feel better having watched segments of the match and seeing themselves doing the things we hope they will do at the weekend,” he explained. “I was annoyed last weekend but I don’t feel we will get a repeat of that performance against Hibs.”
Perhaps a glance at their last visit to Leith would be more useful. Olly Lee’s impressive strike in December gave the visitors their first win away at Hibs since April 2014. A repeat would see Hearts win both league derbies at Easter Road for the first time since season 1996/97.
“The fact that we won down there last time is a good thing. The players should feel okay about that,” said Levein.