Talking point: Hearts need to make Tynecastle a fortress again
As the full-time whistle sounded to condemn Hearts to their seventh home league defeat of the season on Saturday, the fans streamed out of Tynecastle Park. There must have only been a couple of thousand left at best for the traditional end-of-season player parade that draws the curtain down on home games.
This was the last match in Gorgie this season and with a Scottish Cup final just a few weeks away, one expected more to stay and applaud their players and wish them well for May 25. Ultimately, most just felt scunnered by another average performance and poor result at Tynecastle.
For years, Hearts have built their success on making their stadium a difficult place to take points from. However, fortress Tynecastle is not a phrase you would associate with the Jambos this term – even with the presence of a stormtrooper outside the Main Stand before kick off.
Seven defeats and four draws out 19 games. Only eight victories – less than a 50 per cent win rate. Hibs won here for the first time since 2013. Dundee – relegated this weekend – took three points. Kilmarnock have pillaged Tynie twice. Not a glove laid on Rangers. Draws with St Mirren and Livingston. They all add up.
Last season, Hearts finished sixth and won eight games at home. The difference was that they only lost three times at Tynecastle. In season 2016/17, they finished fifth, winning nine homes games and losing five. The year before that, when they finished third, 11 matches were won at home and only three lost.
Two things are clear: sixth is likely to be best you’ll get if you can’t win the majority of your games, and teams don’t fear coming to Gorgie as much any more.
The point is exacerbated further by the fact that Hearts, by in large, don’t travel very well. This has been an issue for years and not an condition reserved for the current team. But when away points are hard to come by, home form counts for so much.
Hearts have had their problems this season. Injuries have been plentiful. Manager Craig Levein has been dealt a rotten hand on the fitness front. Losing key players for months at a time is going to test even the best of bosses.
However, if Hearts are going to trouble the top four next season – and that is owner Ann Budge’s stated aim – then they need to make Tynecastle impervious again. The team needs to play on the front foot at home, the starting XI should be attack-minded and the fans need to make the stadium raucous and, within the rules, intimidating for opponents. The only time this year I’ve felt Tynecastle at its best was in the second half of the 2-1 win over Aberdeen in March. Even the Dons manager Derek McInnes remarked on the stadium’s energy that day.
Those moments are all too rare at Tynecastle right now. An improvement in EH11 is needed next term.