Tasos Avlonitis stood up and apologised to his Hearts team-mates inside the Pittodrie dressing room on Saturday.
His costly mistake allowed Aberdeen to score their second goal in a damaging 2-0 defeat for the Edinburgh club, and the Greek defender felt compelled to take responsibility at full-time.
The horror on his face is unmistakeable as he relives the moment for the benefit of the Evening News. Avlonitis’ short backpass allowed Jonny Hayes to dart in and round the visiting goalkeeper Jack Hamilton before rolling the ball into an empty net. Two goals behind with an hour gone, there was no way back for Hearts and Avlonitis knew it.
Colleagues consoled him on the field at the time and after the final whistle. Once everyone reached the dressing room, the dejected centre-back stood up to address the issue head on.
“I want to say that I take the biggest amount of responsibility for this loss,” he said. “I made the mistake for the second goal and, at that moment, everything was finished. It was very difficult for us to come back from 2-0 down.
“The pitch was not so good but that is no excuse. I thought the striker [Hayes] would come from the outside so I didn’t see that he would go to the goalkeeper.
“The pass also was not good. It’s the first time I made this mistake in my life and I feel strange. It’s not a good moment for me but, in my life, I have learned to go on even if you lose or make a mistake. This is football. We learn from our mistakes.
“All the players told me it wasn’t my fault we lost the game and things like this. I spoke in the dressing room and I told them what I have just told you. It is my responsibility. I felt I wanted to apologise and I wanted to tell them. I know that we lost 2-0 and it’s not only my fault but the biggest responsibility is on me. I think the players appreciated that. They hugged me and told me it’s not only my fault because we had chances and, if we score, it’s a different game. For the defenders, if we make one mistake, we pay for that.”
Hearts did create openings but precious few to speak of. Sam Nicholson’s early chance which arced over the Aberdeen crossbar would have given the match a rather different complexion had it been a yard lower.
As it was, Shay Logan was unmarked five yards from goal when he headed the opener, and Avlonitis then gifted Hayes the second. Not a good day all round for the Tynecastle defence.
“I think we had one or two good chances in the first half and maybe we could score. Then the game would be different,” said Avlonitis. “When we play away, it’s very important to take the chances. This happens, though. As I said, I have learned in my life that you have to go on.”
Most of the Hearts squad regroup at Riccarton this week to try and eradicate the inconsistency which has seen them win just five of their last 18 matches.
International fortnight permits more useful time on the training field for head coach Ian Cathro and his squad. It must be used wisely, for next up at Tynecastle on Sunday, April 2, are champions-elect Celtic.
“We have to work for the next two weeks during the international break and we have to improve on the small details. We have a difficult programme coming up because we play at home against Celtic next,” said Avlonitis.
“Because we play at home, we have to win. We just have to win, for us and for our fans.”
A 17-point gap between themselves in fifth place and Aberdeen in second is considered unacceptable at this point in the season. The Ladbrokes Premiership makes relatively grim reading for Gorgie regulars right now and the players are aware of the need to climb the table.
“We look at every game individually,” continued Avlonitis. “We have to beat Celtic for ourselves and our fans. We want to close the gap because we have more games to come.
“Our target is to go as high as we can in the table. If we go for a win in every game and look at it differently, we can adapt to the situation. Right now, the most important thing is to come back and start winning again.
“We train until Thursday this week and then we have some days off. Only the players who are on international duty will leave. The others will stay here in Edinburgh. We have to improve some things in our game.”
Beyond the remaining nine league games, Avlonitis must consider his long-term future. He was one of nine new recruits signed by Cathro during the January transfer window in an attempt to reinforce a fairly light squad.
Like many others, his short-term contract expires at the end of May. Talks between player and club have yet to take place regarding an extension so next season remains very much uncertain.
The 27-year-old is content in Edinburgh and sounds like he would consider a longer stay. Whether management staff intend to offer one over the coming weeks is unclear.
“I am happy here. I like the team, I like the fans and my team-mates have very good character,” stated the Greek. “I appreciated that, from the first moment, the players hugged all the new players who came in January. This is very important.
“I like it at Hearts but I don’t know about my future. I think it’s a little bit early to speak about this. Later we will speak for sure but I don’t know what will happen. We have still to talk about it.”