Why Hearts fans are right to be feeling dismayed at the direction the team are heading
The 5-0 defeat at Ibrox was yet another staging post in a dismal season for the Tynecastle side
It would be easy to write about the lack of dynamism in the Hearts midfield at Ibrox. Or the ease at which the team are giving up goals. Or the general imbalance of the squad. But in all honesty there was nothing new learned in the 5-0 loss to Rangers, and there are more disconcerting and serious issues at play.
In the eyes of a number of fans, this is a team which appear to be sleepwalking towards the Ladbrokes Championship.
Let’s take stock of the damning form over the last 13 months.
Firstly, a reminder that Heart of Midlothian were top of the Scottish Premiership at the start of November 2018. It bears repeating, such is the position the club currently finds itself in.
In the last 41 leagues games, Hearts have picked up just 36 points. A smidgen under 0.88 points-per-game. Nine wins and 23 losses. Sixty-eight goals conceded. Nine clean sheets.
If the points-per-game ratio was to be extrapolated across a 38-game season it would leave the team on 33 points.
2014 v 2019
The good news is such a return would have seen the club relegated only once in the past six seasons. The bad news is that the Hearts team relegated in 2014 picked up five more points when you take into consideration the 15-point deduction.
As fellow Evening News writer Craig Fowler discovered, Gary Locke’s team had amassed more points at this stage in the season than the current side.
It is therefore easy to understand the range of feelings amongst the Hearts support - anger, embarrassment, apathy, frustration and anxiety.
Yesterday’s result and performance wasn’t a surprise to many who had traipsed through from Edinburgh, armed with just a shred of hope. There was almost an expectancy that what happened would happen. Which in itself tells a story, a very downbeat one at that.
Austin MacPhee’s post-match comments did nothing to alleviate the disappointment of those who had watched the performance.
“No manager is going to get judged on the result of a game here,” he said. “Hearts haven't won at Ibrox in the league (top flight) since 2012 so the expectations are different.”
It is the fans’ job to be pessimistic when heading along the M8, but they want to see their team show little fear in Glasgow. The managers and players of Hearts are expected to be confident, courageous and competitive at Ibrox and Celtic Park. They are at a club which should be judged on how they fare against the Old Firm, as well as how they do against the league’s ‘lesser’ teams.
The anxiousness of the support to see a new manager standing in Gorgie, scarf over head, is growing by the second, especially after yesterday’s result.
Whoever the next boss is, they have to be a positive appointment. In terms of a general persona, someone whom fans can warm to, but more importantly a manager whose beliefs are in attacking, front-foot, fearless football.
On top of that, the person in the Tynecastle dugout has to be a strong personality. To not only deal with the scrutiny which comes from the support but the strength to make strong personnel decisions among the playing staff with a raft of under-performing players, some of whom are the club’s leading individuals.
The club have been criticised by fans and pundits for the time it is taking to make the next appointment – it is now 33 days since Craig Levein was sacked. But it is one which cannot be rushed, despite the desperation. The last thing Ann Budge & Co can do is put the wrong person in place.
Yet, perhaps understandable criticism comes with regards to an apparent lack of contingency plan or foresight when Levein was relieved of his duties, despite the fact the club were surely aware it was something which was around the corner, considering the strength of feeling amongst the fans and the results and performances continuing to worsen.
It leads back to the decision to have the same man operate as both director of football and manager. It has shown the awkwardness and difficulties which it can entail, and acts as a lesson for all clubs that the roles should be overseen by separate individuals.
The last 13 months has seen a malaise not just set in at Tynecastle, but pull up a footstool, park itself on the sofa, switch on the TV and get comfortable.
The managerial appointment is one of the biggest in years at Heart of Midlothian Football Club, and it will only be when that person is chosen when the malaise start to lift.
But one thing that person should know is that it will unlikely be a quick fix. They have a massive job on their hands.