THERE have been few memorable afternoons at Tynecastle this season, and Hearts manager Gary Locke will certainly have no fond reminiscences of his team’s 4-0 defeat by Kilmarnock yesterday. The Premiership’s bottom side looked second best from the opening stages of the game to the last minute, and Locke accepted that one of his most pressing tasks now is to lift the confidence of his struggling squad.
“You’ve got to compete better than we did in the first half,” he said. “It’s certainly not something that could be levelled at the players much this season, but we didn’t compete well enough. We didn’t start the game well enough and Kilmarnock ended up a couple of goals up [by half-time], but we’ve certainly got to do better.
“You could see there’s probably one or two players there that are short on confidence, but if you play here you’ve got to be brave, you’ve got to take the ball, and that was one of the disappointing things today, because we can pass the ball. But, for me, I felt there were too many times today when a Hearts player had the ball he didn’t have enough options. It is a lack of confidence, but the only way to get through that is by digging in, and we’ve got to do that.”
With most of his squad inexperienced and no prospect of new recruits coming in next month, Locke is aware that going over the top in criticising his team could be counter-productive. At the same time, there is a certain standard below which it is unacceptable to slip – and Hearts were well below it in this game.
“With them being young lads you’ve got to try and watch [how critical you are],” added Locke. “But sometimes you can’t make excuses: you’ve got to be honest, and that’s one thing I always will be. Today I just felt that too many times when we had the ball, the man in possession didn’t have enough options, and we’ve certainly got to do better.
“I haven’t got a lot of scope to change things at the moment, but I felt we needed to try and do something – and we did a little bit better in the second half. But it was a day at the office you need to forget. It was a positive that Ross County lost, but we can’t keep slipping up ourselves.”
Once the team closest to Hearts at the foot of the table, Kilmarnock are now just four points off the top six. “We have created a wee gap at the bottom, but we need to keep building on that,” their manager Allan Johnston said. “It was disappointing seeing the other results today that Hibs and St Mirren both won. We’re playing those two next, so they’re big games for us and a good opportunity to catch them.”