Recurring theme causing concern at Hearts as management try to change the club's culture

Premiership points have been thrown away too often so far this season by the Edinburgh club
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The journey down the A90 from Aberdeen on Saturday night was accompanied by an all-too-familiar feeling for Hearts. Players, coaches, staff and supporters all endured that gnawing sense of deja vu after Leighton Clarkson's late winning goal. Having led 1-0 and looked comfortable, those from Edinburgh found themselves reined in from a winning position because of a late collapse - and not for the first time this season.

For Aberdeen at Pittodrie, read Rangers at Ibrox and Hibs at Tynecastle. On all three occasions, Hearts strove to see out a game and failed. The recurring theme irritates all concerned, even more so given the same thing also happened in European competition at home to PAOK Salonika. It is a habit which must change.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lawrence Shankland's header at the weekend was overhauled by Bojan Miovski's equaliser before Clarkson's late intervention. Another Shankland header had Hearts 1-0 up away to Rangers on 29 October, but James Tavernier's 90th-minute penalty and Danilo's winner seconds later amounted to a punch in the guts for the visitors. Three weeks beforehand, they surrendered a 2-0 lead in the Edinburgh derby to draw 2-2.

In contrast to those fixtures, it should be acknowledged that Hearts have successfully seen out several matches to record important wins this season. They beat Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in both the league and Viaplay Cup, plus wins against Ross County in Dingwall, St Johnstone home and away, Motherwell at Fir Park and Aberdeen at Tynecastle. So there is clear evidence that they are capable of the mental discipline and concentration to manage a game through to a conclusion.

When that doesn't happen, there is a bitter aftertaste. It still lingers in the throats of Tynecastle employees and fans following weekend events in the north east. Naismith wants to see more character from his players but won't simply conduct sweeping changes during the forthcoming transfer window. His priority as it stands is to sign a right-back.

"I don't think there is much change in what we want to do [in January]," he told the Edinburgh News. "The evolution of the squad will happen over the course of years, but there are a couple of occasions that I've touched on. At Ibrox, to come away with nothing in that game is similar to Saturday. We can't come away from Saturday after such a good start, being in such a good position, having the crowd frustrated and dominating possession, to then letting all that go.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The amount of hard work that goes into that [performance], and at Ibrox, and at home in the derby, you can't just throw it away so easily. That is something we do need to address and change. It's not as simple as just replacing a player for another player and that changes. It's a culture around the place. I think, over the course of the last 10 years, you can see that there has been those moments where we've just been short on that side of things."

It is an ongoing process for management at Riccarton. A number of the Hearts first-team squad are what you might label "project players" who are still learning and gaining experience. These under-25s have a role to play in the team right now but are also viewed as long-term assets who should become better with time. Naismith wants to improve things bit-by-bit.

"Yes, that's it 100 per cent. It's hard to play for Hearts because of the demand. That's one aspect of it," he said. "Then we are asking players to be brave in possession, that's another aspect. Then, when that fight comes, you need to have that. If you don't have that and you are really weak in that moment, then that's when it costs you."

An important week's training lies ahead at Riccarton with Celtic next up in Glasgow. St Mirren, Hibs, Ross County and Livingston are also on Hearts' fixture list between now and the winter break. Weekend results dropped the Tynecastle side to sixth in the Premiership table, although they are just two points behind third-placed St Mirren. A lot can change over the next five matches.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

One area needing addressed is midfield, specifically the lack of energy and tenacity in that department. Ball retention is also an issue which contributed to Hearts being pinned in their own half in games they have lost. Keep the ball better and the other team find it more difficult to score. Greater energy and ability to win back possession will also stop opponents gaining rhythm.

The second half at Pittodrie demonstrates all of the above and more. Naismith wants his team playing higher up the pitch and doesn't issue instructions to sit deep. He admitted lessons must be learned from the weekend. "Definitely. At the times when we could play, we didn't," he said. "It will be common in Scottish football, there will be teams that go direct and you need to deal with that. Saturday wasn't a good sign. It didn't show us that we are up for that fight.

"Firstly, we need to be up for the fight but, secondly, have a calmness within that. The pressure is building, the fans are frantic and they are on top of you. However, you still need to have a level of calmness to work out the solution. You can't just let the runaway train take you with it and lose all concentration and focus. Then you lose your positional play, people are running off the back of you, then you are reacting to things which ultimately costs us."

Related topics: