The troubling Hearts away form laid bare - can Robbie Neilson's men end a 29-year hoodoo this season
On Saturday, Hearts return to the scene of the crime. Seventeen months on from the pitiful 1-0 defeat to St Mirren which consigned the club to the bottom of the Premiership, they are back in Paisley.
No one knew it at the time, but Jonathan Obika’s goal in March 2020 would be the last involvement for the Tynecastle club in the Scottish top-flight until Robbie Neilson steered his men to an opening day victory over Celtic last weekend.
There will be some within the club's fan base still given sleepless nights by the performance that evening with the team in a relegation battle. In turn, every supporter will be looking for Hearts to not only build on the significant win against Celtic but also make amends for that defeat to the Buddies prior to the league season being stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, there is a bigger picture. That of the relationship between Hearts and the club’s away form, especially in Scotland’s top tier.
Most supporters, especially the ‘every weekenders’, home and away, won’t need reminding of the struggles the team has encountered outside of Edinburgh over the years.
Test of fandom
Supporting the club away from Tynecastle is much more than just the football. The community aspect, the camaraderie and the day out. It has to be when results and performances have largely been poor for the best part of two decades.
While it may be a test of fandom and of mental fortitude, it is also a massive bugbear of those fans as they ponder why the team can't approach games in the manner they can do at Tynecastle Park.
For the team it is one area where big strides can be made, one which could really aid Hearts in reclaiming the ‘best of the rest’ crown.
After all, the stats of the club’s away performance over the past 20 top-flight seasons don't make good reading.
Starting this weekend, Hearts will be looking for their first league win at St Mirren since December 2010. They have won just three of their last 15 league visits to Paisley.
Worryingly, of the teams in the cinch Premiership this campaign, the away record against the Buddies is not the worst.
The grounds which haunt
Hearts haven’t won a league fixture at Celtic since 2007, losing 14 of their last 15. In the past 15 meetings with St Johnstone in the league there has been seven draws and seven defeats. The solitary win was in November 2010.
At Ibrox, the Gorgie side have lost 11 of their last 15. One of their two wins arrived in the Championship.
Another ground which requires vast improvement is Tannadice. Hearts have lost to Dundee United on 10 of the last 15 visits.
Fir Park has been the scene of nine defeats in the previous 15 meetings with Motherwell.
Then there is Pittodrie. Seven defeats doesn’t seem too bad but Hearts have won just twice in the recent past. The last league win at Aberdeen arrived in 2016, Abiola Dauda scoring the only goal of the game in the penultimate fixture of the season.
October will be an interesting month with away games at Rangers, St Johnstone and Aberdeen.
For all that is the doom and gloom, the Premiership offers up some venues which Hearts do favour.
The derby at Easter Road has become a favourite hunting ground for points. Despite finishing bottom two seasons ago, Hearts still managed two wins on their rival’s turf.
They have won six of their last 15 league visits to Easter Road, while seven wins have been achieved at Dens Park.
Perhaps the ground which fans will most look forward to making the journey to is the Global Energy Stadium in Dingwall. Not only is it an enjoyable away day, Hearts have defeated Ross County four times and drawn another four of their nine league matches there.
It is a record which needs replicating elsewhere.
The 29-year hoodoo
In the top-flight, Hearts have not won more than nine league away games in a season since 1991/92, winning 15 of 22 when it was a 44-game campaign.
It is not an easy feat to achieve, it has to be noted. But for a club the size of Hearts, its ambition and the backing of the supporters, home and away, 29 years is far too long a wait.
For context, Hibs won 11 last season. Then there is Aberdeen. In six successive seasons between 2014 and 2019 they reached double figures for away league wins under former boss Derek McInnes. An impressive feat.
Across the past 20 top-flight campaigns, Hearts have never finished with a win percentage record of 50 per cent or above away from home.
The closest the club came was the 2010/11 season under Jim Jefferies when the team embarked on an 11-game unbeaten run which included the aforementioned victories at St Johnstone and St Mirren.
Laid out in black and white it doesn't make good reading.
It is a perplexing situation which has supporters scratching their heads more often than not, questioning whether it is a case of tactics, ambition or mentality.
Hearts may not be backed by away fans this weekend but in time a large and passionate following will be back soon enough, perhaps for the trip to Tannadice at the end of the month.
What better way to welcome their return to travelling up and down the country following the club than becoming the team which ends a 29-year wait to record double figures in away league wins in the top flight.