Hearts post-match: Jeers and abuse ring in ears - new recruits needed quickly for relegation battle
Transfer window will be so, so pivotal for Daniel Stendel's side
Hearts must exhaust themselves trying to recruit whichever players manager Daniel Stendel covets in January. Quite simply, it is their only hope of avoiding relegation. The current crop trudged up the Tynecastle Park tunnel with jeers and abuse ringing in their ears after a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat to city rivals Hibs.
Relegation looms larger with each passing week and the only action which might prevent it is signings. Martin Boyle's first-half double earned a comfortable win for the Easter Road side, consigning their hosts to a fifth straight defeat and a seventh in eight games. After Aberdeen on Sunday comes a critical winter transfer window for the Tynecastle hierarchy.
Owner Ann Budge is reluctant to put her club in the red and rightly so. However, she may have little choice. Signing several new recruits will take a lot money, but relegation would also be financially costly. Hearts will be out of pocket either way and it is clear that the existing squad needs injected with fresh pace, energy, confidence and character if it is to survive.
They were 2-0 down to two excellent finishes from Boyle with little more than half an hour played in this game. At that stage, it looked like Hibs could score several more, with fragile confidence among those in maroon leading to errors. One could only imagine what Edinburgh derby veterans like Paul Hartley or John Robertson made of it.
Hearts recovered after the break and created several decent chances. They could not convert and finished the day still bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership, and 13 points worse off than Hibs. “What we did in the second half is what I expected from my team in all the games. But we were 2-0 behind,” admitted Stendel. “We conceded the goals alone. My feeling is they were own goals. We had some good chances but the feeling is: 'Can we really score a goal?'
“The situation is not easy. I am here four games and we have not won, and we have not won a point. That is frustrating for me. The result was not good today but the performance was so much better. When we can do this for 90 minutes and we can score some goals, we can change this. I know from people at Hearts and from my staff that this is the game we all want to win. And we didn't win. It doesn't matter if we played good or better than Hibs, 2-0 is the result. This is bad.”
Asked how many players he requires to revive Hearts, the German responded: “We will see what we can do. We have a big squad, maybe too big. Some players have improved and we want to help them. We need more players like [Aaron] Hickey. He is young but he has improved more in every game.
“Sean [Clare] is at right-back and that is not his position but he has also improved in every game. This is what I like, that I can help players who want to improve and develop. We need more players like this and more who will take responsibility in a difficult situation. The situation is very bad but when we can change some players and play the same as today, while also scoring goals, we can win games. I believe that. I know it's difficult at the moment but we have enough games. Also, we cannot wait. We need to start early. We have the next chance on Sunday [against Aberdeen].
With both teams deprived of key attacking talent due to injuries affecting both Steven Naismith and Florian Kamberi, opportunities arose for others to become a derby hero. It took Boyle less than six minutes to stake his claim. Hearts failed to clear from their right-back area and Scott Allan lofted the loose ball towards the six-yard area. The delivery was perfectly cushioned beyond goalkeeper Joel Pereira by the Australian internationalist to give Hibs a crucial early cushion.
Hearts appealed for a penalty moments later when striker Uche Ikpeazu tussled with the Hibs midfielder Melker Hallberg. Referee Don Robertson was impassive. On 21 minutes, Allan's corner from the visitors' left flank arced all the way over and rebounded off the back post before being cleared. Play then switched again to the opposite end, where the Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano held Ryotaro Meshino's 25-yard attempt.
The suspicion that the Easter Road side were the more clinical in attack was confirmed beyond doubt just after the half hour. Loic Damour was dispossessed inside his own half by Allan, who prodded the ball into Boyle's path with a tackle. He sprinted off and steadied himself for a composed finish low past Pereira to claim his second goal.
With jeering audible from some home fans, this was now a dangerous and volatile situation for Hearts. They responded through Meshino, who forced Marciano into an excellent one-handed save to stop a shot threatening to creep under the Israeli's crossbar.
After introducing Oliver Bozanic and Euan Henderson at the interval, Hearts again claimed for a penalty after the restart when Ikpeazu felt he was held by Darren McGregor. Stendel's side were now more forceful and Meshino brought another fine save out of Marciano on 62 minutes. Then Ikpeazu, in behind the visiting defence, slid a shot wide of goal from an acute angle.
Marciano's best moment of the afternoon came when he denied Henderson with a double save. First, the keeper's legs blocked the young forward's shot before an instinctive reaction to spring up and claw the rebound attempt away with his hand. Subsequent headers at goal from good positions by Craig Halkett and Christophe Berra were also off target.
That about summed up the afternoon for those in maroon. Their second-half display was more encouraging but they could not put the ball in the net. When you are fighting relegation, that is a colossal worry.