Andy Halliday offers a forthright opinion on Hearts’ recent struggles. Perhaps “struggles” sounds a strange way to describe the efforts of a team leading the league by 12 points, but anyone who watched their last few games will relate.
Three successive 1-1 draws against Queen of the South, Morton and Inverness have drawn criticism ahead of possible Premiership promotion. Even the two wins prior to that against Ayr United and Dunfermline were less than convincing.
Manager Robbie Neilson and his coaching staff have been questioned, as have a number of players including Halliday. The former Rangers midfielder isn’t one to shirk an issue and his assessment of the situation is as candid as ever in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“People keep saying we’re 12 points ahead but you don’t get any satisfaction unless you’re winning,” he said. “I don’t go home on a Saturday night thinking, ‘great, we’re 12 points clear’. I’m disappointed if we haven’t won the game.
“I think we’ve let ourselves down in the last few games. We haven’t won in the last three but I think it’s been going on for a few games prior to that. It’s hard knowing what our ceiling is as a team.
Consistency levels dropped
“I think we hit that a few times in the first ten to 15 games, especially with our performances in the Scottish Cup semi-final and final. Since then, I don’t think we’ve hit that ceiling enough. Our consistency levels have dropped.
“We showed flashes of it winning 4-0 at Raith [on January 26]. We aren’t creating the same as we were and defensively we are keeping teams quiet and then leaking poor goals.
“I can completely understand why fans are frustrated, not only with the past three results but our last few performances. It’s just not been good enough. I truly believe we will get where we need to be and I know we will get better.”
Halliday feels the Hearts players have also let Neilson and his assistants, Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest, down of late. “Personally, I feel I have a great relationship with the manager. His man-management style is refreshing. You don’t see it that much with modern-day managers,” he added.
“The work that him, Gordy and Jig put in every single day on the training ground is remarkable. They are there an hour before any player arrives and they’re probably still there two hours after the last guy leaves.
Message is clear
“We do analysis almost every day and their messages are perfectly clear. We certainly know how teams are going to play against us and what we should be doing to combat that.
“As players, we certainly feel we’ve let the manager and the club down with our last few performances. We still feel we are in a good place in the league but we just want to get back to winning games. That’s all that matters to us.
“As a club, we have bigger ambitions. We want to get promoted at the first attempt and then try to compete in the Premiership next year to take the club back to the glory days. The manager matches that ambition and is driving that into the players every single day.
“I know how much Hearts means to the manager and the players. We’ve let him down, as well as the fans, over the last few weeks so we need to get back to normal.
“In some games we’ve dropped points but had maybe 30 shots on goal to the opposition’s one or two. We know if we play like that then we’ll be fine.
“When I look back on the Inverness and Queen of the South games, the overall performance wasn't good enough. With the quality in our squad, these performances should be rare – not twice in three games.”
Dundee are next on the fixture list this weekend at Tynecastle Park. Hearts won 6-2 when the teams met in Edinburgh in the season’s first game, although Dundee exacted revenge with a 3-1 success at Dens Park in January.
One resounding victory may be all that is needed to spark Hearts into life for the final few weeks of the campaign.
“Yeah, and that could be just round the corner because we’re capable of winning games convincingly,” said Halliday. “Saturday will be difficult because Dundee are one of the best teams in the league.
“We were on top form against them in the first league game but they started the last game at Dens Park a lot quicker than us. That probably surprised us. They played long, got into our half early and got in our faces. We were caught on the back foot and before you know it we were 2-0 down.”
Hearts’ vast squad size and financial muscle sets them apart from any other team in the Championship. Halliday is impressed with the division’s improved standard since winning it with Rangers five years ago.
“I think it’s a better league than when I played in it with Rangers. Teams are better, they have more of a gameplan and better players. When they play Hearts, it’s their big scalp.
“We’ve been top of the league since the first game. I think it’s credit to these teams causing us problems but we know, if are at our best, it should be enough to win.”