The worry is real for Hearts with results, defending and other issues under the microscope ahead of a critical few weeks

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A critical few weeks lie ahead in Gorgie

The worry is real for Hearts following defeats by Dundee, Motherwell and St Mirren in their opening six Premiership games. Saturday’s 1-0 loss in Paisley continued a disoncerting run of only four league victories away from Tynecastle since summer 2022.

This season’s fixture list appeared to offer the Edinburgh club an opportunity for early traction via the above matches, plus others against Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Aberdeen. Drawing with Killie and beating the other two are results which have not been built upon.

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Including Europa Conference League ties against PAOK Salonika, Hearts have lost five of their last six games. Factor in the final 12 matches of last season and it’s six victories from the last 23 outings altogether. Last week’s 2-0 success against Aberdeen is the only bright point since back-to-back wins over Rosenborg in Europe and Partick Thistle in the League Cup. Fans are, understandably, venting their discontent.

This week offers little respite with Tuesday’s cup visit to Kilmarnock before Saturday’s Premiership trip to Ross County. Now would be a good time to start properly addressing that away form. St Mirren had three goals disallowed on Saturday aside from Ryan Strain’s decisive early strike. Scott Tanser’s low cross was left by Hearts defenders and goalkeeper Zander Clark for the unmarked Australian to convert at the back post on seven minutes.

Frankie Kent’s second-half header was blocked on St Mirren’s goal line before goalkeeper Zach Hemming produced outstanding saves to deny Cammy Devlin and Lawrence Shankland in one-against-one situations. So the positive is that Hearts can fashion chances, just not enough given the amount ball they control. They enjoyed 69 per cent possession on Saturday but Saints had 17 goal attempts to their 15.

“It’s been the story for a while, to be honest. We’ve hardly won an away game,” admitted captain Lawrence Shankland. “This season we beat St Johnstone but apart from that we’ve not been great away. It would be stupid if we didn’t talk about that. We need to take notice of it. It’s a frustration for everybody but we’re not playing good enough to win away games and I’ve no idea why. We seem to look a different team when we play at Tynecastle.

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“It is frustrating, coming into St Mirren hoping for momentum, had a gameplan. We know what St Mirren are like, we know how they’ll play the game. Just trying to be better than that. We created three chances – Cammy Devlin, myself, Kye’s header off the line. If they go in, it’s a different score line and everything looks different.

Hearts head coach Steven Naismith speaks with Calem Nieuwenhof and Beni Baningime at St Mirren. Pic: SNSHearts head coach Steven Naismith speaks with Calem Nieuwenhof and Beni Baningime at St Mirren. Pic: SNS
Hearts head coach Steven Naismith speaks with Calem Nieuwenhof and Beni Baningime at St Mirren. Pic: SNS

“Losing the goal so early: When you come away to places like St Mirren, who are doing really well, you can’t do that. I’m not being disrespectful but, the way they play the game, if they get a goal then they are hard to break down. They know that. We knew that coming into the game – and then we gave them a goal.

“They didn’t have to do anything brilliant to break us down. It’s just one ball across the goal, we all leave it and it ends up in the net. Then there’s a mountain to climb. St Mirren are good at making the game difficult, that’s what they do.”

Asked about his scoring chance in the sixth minute of stoppage-time, Shankland was honest. “It is a big chance but the goalie makes the save. I tried to go under him. You expect yourself to score there but I didn’t,” he said.

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After County, Hearts’ October fixture list reads Hibs (home), Celtic (home), Rangers (away). On paper, assignments in August and September looked more straightforward. A critical few weeks lie ahead in Gorgie.