DON’T stop believing. No matter how many words Gary Locke says to his players in the build-up to a game, they amount to those three.
Despite a recent run that has seen Hearts pick up just one point from their last six matches, the manager has faith that his squad, young and inexperienced as they are, have the talent to fight their way out of trouble. Irrepressibly positive as a player, the 38-year-old has retained that attitude since moving into the dugout, and knows that communicating it to his players is a vital part of their fight for survival.
They will certainly need that approach tomorrow, when defeat at Kilmarnock coupled with at least a point for St Mirren at Tannadice would see Hearts fall 16 points adrift at the bottom of the table. That would be a heavy blow to take, but Locke is sure that his team are not far away from turning their form around.
“We’re not shying away from the fact that we’re on a bad run,” he said on Thursday. “But the only way we can get out of that is by everybody doing their jobs and sticking together – and getting a result at the weekend.
“Possibly some people thought it would be easy, after the start we made, but we certainly never did. I’ve said from day one that this was going to be a really difficult season.
“You look at everything that has gone against us, from the 15-point deduction [for going into administration] to working with a young squad. It was always going to be important to stay realistic.
“We are a young team, we are going to have indifferent performances. Apart from the St Mirren game, though, we’ve applied ourselves well.
“There’s no team who’ve run all over the top of us. There are a lot of positives to take.
“You’re certainly not going to hear any negativity from me. We’ve got to keep believing, keep heads up. That’s the way to get positive results.”
Last week’s 2-1 defeat at Motherwell caused some discontent among a section of the Hearts support, with some suggesting that Locke was adopting the wrong tactics. But, whatever rumblings of discontent can be detected on internet chatrooms, in real life Locke has found the club’s supporters to be . . . well, supportive.
“Every single person I’ve met has been very complimentary. The fans have been unbelievable this season.
“Maybe some fans are feeling sorry for us with everything which has gone on. It is realism and I’ve said all along we’ll have to be realistic.
“In the summer, we were nearly not here. That’s how bad it was. Now, I think the fans
appreciate they’ve still got a team to support and they’re willing to take the knocks, as I’ve got to do myself.
“The pleasing thing for me is that everyone at the club is pulling together and the fans are right behind the cause. We need to maintain that, whatever happens.
“I’m not telling the fans to keep their heads up. It’s more they’re telling me to keep my head up. They know the young boys are giving us everything and it is very pleasing.
“I don’t get out often but, when I do, the fans really appreciate what the players are giving us. I’ve been really humbled by the support I’ve had from everyone – I just want to repay them with a few wins.
“I analyse everything,” he continued. “I look at every game in detail. But we’re in a situation, with the squad we’ve got, that there aren’t great many options. We’ve maybe only got a couple of experienced boys who could go on and see a game out for us.
“But the players have been brilliant, I couldn’t ask for any more effort and commitment.
“I’ve said all along that the mistakes we were always going to make are killing us. What’s really important is that we learn as we go. I’ve definitely seen signs of improvement on that front. If we keep on improving over the course of the season, then I’m confident that we can eat back into that gap and give ourselves a chance.”
Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston, a former Tynecastle team-mate of Locke’s, does not have his problems to seek either. Not only have his team fallen to second bottom, there has been a sustained campaign against club chairman Michael Johnston which has seen an atmosphere of discontent settle over Rugby Park. But Locke is sure his friend and former colleague will be more than able to cope.
“Pat Fenlon had it earlier in the season, Danny Lennon, and then it was Allan. I get a wee bit and there are fans who are not happy with the results, but I’m the same – I’m not happy with the results either. “That’s just the nature of football. You get plaudits and you get a bit of stick. Their circumstances are a lot different to ours as they have managed to bring players in and strengthen their squad. It’s part of football and you just have to take it.”