Neil McGlade looks back at what was a disappointing afternoon for Hearts in Hamilton.
There have been some really good performances by Hearts this term, but they are starting to fade into the distant memory. You could look at the 1-0 win over Celtic, the 3-0 victory at Dens Park, the 1-0 derby defeat of Hibs or more recently a fine 2-1 triumph at Kilmarnock. Then there's the 4-1 skelping they gave Hamilton on the opening day of the season. However, they are all being diluted by recent insipid displays, not least in South Lanarkshire on Saturday when they meekly lost 1-0 to the same side they obliterated back in August.
Yes, Steven Naismith was unavailable yesterday and Hearts were playing their third match in a week, but It was a tepid start from the visitors that didn’t get much better as the match wore on. Hearts didn’t show nearly enough in the final third to trouble a side who are scrapping it out to preserve their top-flight status.
Despite Craig Levein electing to play an attacking 4-3-3 against the club with the worst defensive record in the league – 61 goals conceded in 30 matches – opportunities were at a premium with just one shot on target registered in 90 minutes, David Vanecek seeing his close-range effort come back off the crossbar just minutes after Accies had got their noses in front.
But it was the manner in which his players started the match at Hamilton that really struck a chord with Levein. The Hearts boss was at a loss to explain his side’s display as he dissected the key moments of the contest afterwards. Following a battling 1-0 win at Dundee last weekend, not to mention a hard-fought 2-1 replay win over Partick Thistle to set up a Scottish Cup semi-final showdown with Inverness next month, Hearts were expected to build on those morale-boosting victories that have reignited their season and kick on.
Disappointingly, it was nowhere near the gung-ho attitude Hearts had shown on their last visit to the Hope CBD Stadium when they ran out deserved 4-1 winners. The likes of Peter Haring and Arnaud Djoum – two of the Capital side’s key performers this term – didn’t assert themselves nearly enough and came up short in their key individual battles.
Levein was unfazed by the chorus of boos following referee Willie Collum’s full-time whistle and insisted supporters were justified in airing their dismay.
But with the next game – the visit of Aberdeen – not until the end of the month, the international break will afford Levein and his players an opportunity to put the hard work in on the training ground as they bid rediscover some tempo and a high-octane performance. However, while some supporters appear to have thrown in the towel, it’s important to note Hearts are within 90 minutes of a place in this season’s Scottish Cup final and are just five points adrift of third-placed Aberdeen. Performances do need to improve and results like Saturday need to be eradicated, but it's still all to play for. A big April awaits ...