Hearts: Benefactors donating nearly £9m, fans contributing more than £9m, wages of £8m-plus, so why are Jambos bottom at Christmas?
Defeat at Hamilton dampens any festive spirit at Tynecastle
Christmas is already ruined at Tynecastle. Hearts sit three points adrift at the foot of the Premiership and are statistically the worst team in the top flight. Striker Steven MacLean wished everyone in the media room a happy festive period as he left Hamilton's Fountain of Youth Stadium on Saturday evening, but it felt almost insulting to return the pleasantries. There is simply no such thing as a Merry Christmas in Gorgie this year.
Hearts travelled to South Lanarkshire at the weekend and lost 2-1 to Hamilton Academical in a proverbial relegation six-pointer. The same Hamilton Academical who failed to win any of their previous 11 matches. They certainly needed this victory. Both teams sat joint-bottom on 12 points at kick-off and the result leaves the Edinburgh club detached on their own.
Despite millions of pounds in investment, fans contributing more than £9million in five years alone, mysterious benefactors chucking in a similar amount since 2016/17, and a wage bill exceeding £8m, Hearts are bottom of Scotland's top division. One may ask how this happened, although Saturday was a fair indication. Hearts began very brightly in their third match under new manager Daniel Stendel and should have been 1-0 ahead, possibly even 2-0, at the interval. They petered out all too quickly, not helped by Steven Naismith's enforced half-time withdrawal, and ended up surrendering rather meekly. In short, they lacked enough character - a familiar story for those who have watched them throughout 2019.
They have won only two of their last 26 league matches, losing to relegation rivals Hamilton and St Johnstone in two of their last three. The picture is bleak and the realisation of what he has inherited has dawned on Stendel. He admitted needing new players in January but those in situ must surely show some resolve. They face Hibs on Boxing Day and Aberdeen three days later - both opportunities for a much-needed fightback.
"It doesn't get any easier," admitted the Hearts defender Craig Halkett. "I don't know what else to say. The boys are hurting and it's not a nice place to be. Only we can change it. Everyone knows it's not good enough but things aren't going our way and it's going to be a hard one to try and get out of.
"Over the last three fixtures against St Johnstone, Celtic and Hamilton, you would have been looking to pick up six of those nine points. These teams [Saints and Accies] have been used to being where we are at the moment so that's a massive advantage they have over us. It's something we will need to deal with and dig deep."
Right now, it is doubtful whether the squad put together by Craig Levein, Stendel's predecessor, has the required spirit to survive. "We know how hard the situation is," said Halkett. "We are all close and we are fighting for each other. I know it doesn't look like that on the park but I can assure you we are. We need to learn as quickly as possible. You don't get a bigger game for Hearts than an Edinburgh derby on Boxing Day, so that's a great one to bounce back from. It would be a massive lift. Everyone needs to go away, look at themselves and really figure out what is going wrong here."
Ironically, Hearts started encouragingly at Hamilton. With Naismith at the apex of a diamond-shaped midfield, they controlled possession in the first half and created several good scoring chances. Naismith's cushioned volley ought to have found the net from Steven MacLean's knockdown and Halkett's header struck the crossbar. Once Naismith was withdrawn with a possible back-related injury at the break, Hearts' momentum dissipated. Hamilton recovered and gradually carved out the victory they craved. They went 2-0 ahead through Mickel Miller and Will Collar before Oliver Bozanic's header halved the deficit.
"We were really good for the majority of the first half," said Halkett. We created chances but they aren't going in. We have to start the next game they way we did on Saturday and just hope one of the chances will go in. We haven't been keeping clean sheets and that puts more pressure on the strikers to score. It's all come together to become one big mess but we are all confident we know what we need to do."