The well-trodden A90 becomes a potential road towards redemption for Hearts this weekend.
The damage and hurt caused by Friday’s defeat in West Lothian cannot be entirely erased in one afternoon. Hearts have just one win to their credit at Pittodrie in the last five years, so the task facing them is daunting. Nonetheless, they simply need a game to get the Livingston lashing out of their system.
Midfielder Peter Haring was one of many Hearts players who left the Tony Macaroni Arena looking ashen-faced on Friday evening. The squad cancelled a weekend Christmas trip to Prague in the aftermath and are now eager to redeem themselves in the eyes of supporters.
Waiting eight days to do so is far from ideal. Haring and his team-mates are enduring a long week right now as they await their next fixture.
“It’s not that we lost 5-0, it’s more the way it happened,” explained the Austrian midfielder, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “Giving away five goals in 14 minutes, I’ve never seen something like that happen to any team. I think it was not worthy of a club like Heart of Midlothian.
“We have to get Friday out of our heads as quickly as possible. We can’t atone for the Livingston defeat with one game, but we have to start at Aberdeen. We have to change something and try to improve our situation.”
Haring was shunted from central midfield into a reshaped three-man defence for the second half against Livingston. Despite an encouraging start by Hearts after the break with the score still goalless, he admitted being stunned by what unfolded after the deadlock was broken on 72 minutes.
The visiting goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal clattered into Livingston captain Craig Halkett inside the penalty area, and Halkett converted the resultant spot-kick. That sparked 14 minutes of madness which left Hearts like a punch-drunk boxer as Dolly Menga scored before a Ryan Hardie double and late goal by Shaun Byrne.
“Everything happened really quickly,” recalled Haring. “In the first half, Livingston were the better team. They had the better and chances and at times we were lucky.
“We knew it was a tough place to go because their home record speaks for itself. We weren’t quick enough in our heads in the first half and we changed the system for the second half.
“We started the second half okay. They were not creating any chances and we looked solid. Then the penalty happened. For me, it was a penalty. Then it’s hard to say what happened.
“The goals came so quickly and every shot Livingston had on target was a goal. I think every player has to ask himself what he did wrong on the pitch.”
There have indeed been some serious questions asked. Not least by manager Craig Levein, who laballed the defeat against one of the Ladbrokes Premiership’s newly-promoted clubs “horrible” and “embarrassing”. No-one dared disagree.
Haring believes players must take individual and collective responsibility for what ensued. That is the only way to ensure there is no repeat and to lay down building blocks for some cheer over the Festive period – with Hearts due to face Aberdeen away, Hamilton at home and Hibs away during Christmas week.
“We were all angry at the end on Friday but we didn’t speak too much to each other. I think everyone knows they did quite poorly,” said Haring.
“No-one can say anything because everyone knows they did not perform enough. As a team, we were just terrible after losing the first goal. We reacted very badly.
“At some point, you have to say: ‘We are 1-0 or 2-0 down, just defend solidly and try to make the best of the situation.’
“Instead, we chased the ball unnecessarily and gave them way too much room when we had ten men. It was just a terrible night for us.”
The fact other major clubs in the Ladbrokes Premiership have struggled at Livingston only provides Hearts with small comfort as they try to move on from the experience.
“Winning 5-0 against Hearts is crazy,” said Scott Pittman, the Livingston midfielder. “That is probably the best we have played in a while as we were ruthless in front of goal.
“Most people expected us to be in a relegation battle after coming up from the Championship but we find ourselves in the top six again after this result.
“We hope to stay there. We have only lost one game at home all season and defensively we do not lose many goals.
“We have shown a no-fear mentality in the Premiership, especially after Rangers came and lost and we also took a point off Celtic. We have also beat Hibs and Hearts here so it is a great record.”