When you are in a footballing rut like Hearts, there is nothing else for it. Unbutton your cuffs and roll those sleeves up in preparation to fight like a trojan. That is the very message from striker Steven MacLean following the Edinburgh club’s fourth defeat in five games without a goal.
St Mirren’s first victory under Oran Kearney came as something of a surprise in Paisley on Saturday. Hearts arrived having led the Ladbrokes Premiership since August while the home side had won only one league game all season. Adam Hammill’s two goals – the first a 35-yard volley – created quite a stir and left those in maroon nursing a feeling which has become all too familiar of late.
Much has been made of injuries to pivotal players like Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith. However, MacLean is adamant those who are fit must stand up to be counted. Rangers are due in Gorgie this weekend and, following defeats by St Mirren, Celtic (twice) and Kilmarnock, plus a goalless draw with Hibs, the 36-year-old says an impassioned response is overdue.
“It’s a perfect game against Rangers,” said MacLean. “We have a good record at Tynecastle and it will be a good game. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. I’m not going to sit here and say: ‘We aren’t missing the players who are out.’ Of course we are.
“John and Uche aren’t going to be back for a while, so forget about those two. Christophe might be back soon, so that will be a big help to us. Naisy will be back in a few weeks’ time. We are going to miss them, anybody would, but as players we don’t look to that.
“We have to look after ourselves and there will be boys playing for their futures here. Me as well. If you aren’t doing the business then these players will come back and you will be out of the side. It’s as simple as that.
“We’ve got to stick together and come out of the other end. We’re on a bad run and the only way you get out of it is with hard work and sticking together. Whether there’s extra pressure or not, you’ve just got to step up to the mark. We are missing players but we’ve got to roll our sleeves up.”
MacLean explained that he experienced worse sequences of results with former club St Johnstone and survived through pure resilience. “You go through this in seasons because it’s never perfect,” he continued. “Whether you’re in the team or out of the team, this is your chance and boys have to take it. If you don’t, then when other boys come back you will be out of the side.
“I’ve been on worse runs like this, don’t worry about that. The only way out of it is to roll your sleeves up, work hard, stick together and do the right things. If you keep doing the right things, you will get the results you deserve. Hopefully it will turn for us. We have good characters. The boys who haven’t experienced this, others will help them along the way and we will come out the other end of it.”
Hearts enjoyed the majority of possession throughout the 90 minutes but creativity in the final third once again eluded them. St Mirren, for their part, took the opportunities which arose and were more clinical in that regard.
After a goalless first half in which Kyle Magennis had struck the opposition crossbar, Adam Hammill produced a 35-yard screamer to catch the Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal by surprise and open the scoring. That came in the first minute of the second period, and nine minutes later Hammill doubled the advantage. Paul McGinn’s heavy first touch inside the penalty area fell kindly for the forward, who stroked home a first-time finish.
The two-goal deficit proved significant. Hearts piled crosses into the St Mirren penalty area but too often they were met by a black-and-white shirt. When Arnaud Djoum did head one into the net late on, an offside flag against MacLean denied him a goal. It was simply one of those afternoons for the visitors.
“We’ve scored two goals in our last two games which have been fine,” bemoaned MacLean. “We scored one the other week [against Kilmarnock] and another one today. Arnaud wasn’t offside but we aren’t getting these little breaks. It will come.
“We’re still in and around it at the top of the league. Celtic are ahead just now and Rangers have overtaken us but we’re still thereabouts. We’ve had a disappointing few weeks, we need to stick together and we will bounce back.
“We’re creating a few chances and we have to take one and stick the ball away. I hit the side net early on and I’ve got to look to try and take those chances. We scored a goal on Saturday which looked alright, and we scored one in the last game that was okay as well. Little things like that aren’t going for us at the moment.”