How Hearts conceded five goals in five minutes, 13 seconds of live play
"Hearts are really up against it now. Now let's see what kind of character they've got."
Those were the words of Stephen Craigan on the live BT Sport broadcast after Arnaud Djoum had been sent off for Craig Levein's visitors just seconds after Livingston had opened the scoring from the penalty spot. A tough match, where Hearts had been fortunate not to fall behind sooner, had become even tougher and eyes were cast towards the side hoping to go level on points with Celtic at the top of the league table. Could they defy the odds, stay resolute, shut Livingston out and sneak a late equaliser with their one-man disadvantage?
Not so much.
Instead, Hearts completely capitulated. They conceded a further four goals in the following 12 minutes, going down 5-0 to a side mainly made up of players who won the Ladbrokes League One table just 18 months ago.
Supporters will say the team completely gave up, which is an understandable response from a hurting fanbase given the nature of the collapse. But no player wants to be on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering, especially when it's to a side further down the league table and inside a ground where there are more of your supporters than there are of the home team.
Stripping the emotion out of it, this writer went back to the footage to discover just exactly how Hearts managed to concede five goals in such a short space of time. The ball was only in play for five minutes and 13 seconds between Craig Halkett netting the penalty to put Livingston 1-0 up and Shaun Byrne rounding off the embarrassment with a fifth goal. How is that even possible?
The red card
This team deserve no excuses, but it's safe to say this match doesn't finish 5-0 if Djoum isn't sent off for a second bookable offence. The away side probably wouldn't have managed to haul themselves level, given Livingston's terrific home record - they've conceded just three at the Tony Macroni in the league all season - and the struggles of the Hearts attack without Steven Naismith. But 5-0? Probably not. The decision itself was quite harsh though comprehensible in real time. Djoum is very clumsy in the way he goes about trying to win the ball back from Dolly Menga. Instead of going through the ball, he tries to flick it away with his heel. He succeeds but collides with Menga as doing so. The replays show it's not a yellow card offence and barely even a foul, but it looked much worse than it was at normal speed, which is the only look referee Nick Walsh gets.
Change of formation
Levein started with a 4-3-3 but altered the team at half-time, going back to the 3-4-2-1 that helped them defeat Motherwell last weekend. However, after Djoum's red he changed it again, putting Haring back into the centre of midfield and going 4-4-1. This left a gap between the right centre-back, Aaron Hughes (more on him to come) and Michael Smith at right-back, who was pushing forward to try and get the away side back in the game. This switch contributed to goals three, four and five, which all came through that gap.
Sloppy individual play
The defence and goalkeeper had, what can only be described as, an absolute nightmare in the closing stages, but they weren't helped out by the players ahead of them. In the build-up to the second goal, Sean Clare, on at half-time for Callumn Morrison, tried to run himself through a crowded midfield deep in his own half instead of launching it up the park and away to safety. Of course, he then wouldn't have expected five defenders failing to stop Menga when the Livi player received the ball on the right of the penalty area.
The next goal then saw Demetri Mitchell play a poor pass in between Peter Haring and Olly Lee in the midfield. With the visitors pushed forward, this enabled a ball in behind to release Ryan Hardie, who checked back inside Hughes and hooked his finish around Zlamal.
The experienced international defender had a night he'd love to forget after coming on as a first-half substitute for the injured Clevid Dikamona.
At the second goal he shadows Menga's run across the six-yard box but doesn't get close enough to put a tackle in, or even come into physical contact with the striker. He uses the same approach at Hardie's first, closing the angle of the striker but going beyond it far too much, therefore making it easy for Hardie to check back inside (Hughes also obstructs Zlamal as he does so). At the fourth he's caught out by a ball over the top and, again, doesn't do enough physically to put off Hardie, who nets his second. And then at the fifth he stands off Steven Lawless and allows the wing-back to advance into the penalty area. He's able to block the shot but can only flick out at the loose ball, which only goes a few yards to Byrne to net once more.
Hearts kept pushing forward
At goals three, four and five the defence were left exposed. They should have done better themselves to deal with the individual situations, but it certainly didn't help matters that there was little protection from the midfield. Given the situation it's understandable. Hearts were either two, three or four goals down at the time. They needed to push men higher up the park in order to try to get something out of the game, regardless of how ridiculous such a notion may have seemed.