Steven Naismith has his say on Hearts malaise and sapped confidence
Confidence. So easy to lose and extremely hard to gain.
Hearts are finding that right now, even if they sit 11 points clear of the Championship with a handful of matches still to play. They will win the title – possibly next weekend, depending on results – yet they look like a team totally sapped of any kind of morale. Their latest game, a 0-0 draw away at Dunfermline on Saturday, highlighted the issue.
Spirits were crushed by crashing out of the Scottish Cup to Brora Rangers last month and the rancour within the Hearts fanbase has been heightened by that. But even before, murmurs of discontent were surfacing due to some meek performances. Getting over the line and returning to the Premiership might not be enough for some supporters.
Steven Naismith is experienced enough to understand that. He made his first appearance since late February as a substitute, but he could not inspire Hearts to victory. In truth, that would have been harsh on Dunfermline, who had their own demons to deal with after being skittled 5-1 by Raith Rovers last week. This point lifted them back into the play-offs and there was a marked improvement in their level.
“It was two teams low in confidence in terms of overall quality,” said Naismith.
“For both of us I think it turned into a game not to lose and one that lacked any real quality for a matchwinner.
"Recent results haven’t been good enough. And on top of that the bigger disappointment is, because we have the lead in the league, the cup competitions are the ones you look at.
“Our record before that was four semi-finals and two finals, and then we do what we did in the Scottish Cup final earlier in the season.
“There’s an expectation there, a level we should be performing at, and it’s not been there and that’s really poor and it has not been good enough.
“In recent performances the quality has not been good enough, that has been the problem.
“We’ve still got a point here and that’s us a point closer to the title, but you want to be enjoying this part of the season – so much hard work has gone into it.
“The more results haven’t gone our way the more players have started to become a bit more safe with our passes.
“As a footballer I have been in those situations and it’s tough to play freely, and that’s been the case.
“We have to take the positive – it’s a point and it puts more pressure on the teams chasing us."
Hearts’ next match is at home to Alloa on Friday night. A victory there and dropped points by Raith and Dundee the following day will crown the Jambos champions, but Naismith admits it’s a strange feel to title race.
“I think someone looking from afar would think it’s strange a team could be top of the league and low in confidence," added Naismith.
“But I have been at this club long enough, I know what the demands are.
“We’re coming up against teams who are sitting in every week, but that’s not going to change next season if we get into the Premiership.
“That’s what we need to become better at and be more comfortable with.”