AS HEARTS have struggled to find form in recent weeks, so criticism of John McGlynn has increased.
At times, the manager has added to that criticism himself, insisting that he, not his relatively inexperienced team, should take the blame when things go wrong.
Protection of his squad comes as second nature to McGlynn, who has spent much of his coaching career working with young players, and knows how easily their confidence can be affected. He also knows that inconsistency is inevitable with youthful teams, and that there will be more days like last week’s 3-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock.
But, while he habitually takes responsibility for such reverses and is disinclined to make excuses for himself, McGlynn believes there is a bigger picture at Tynecastle which some of Hearts’ more vitriolic supporters are failing to see. He believes that, compared to the resources which his predecessor Paulo Sergio had to work with last season, his own squad is not doing too badly during this campaign – especially bearing in mind that they have the chance to take a trophy back to Tynecastle next month, when they meet St Mirren in the League Cup final.
“Anyone who feels they’ve paid their money and wants to vent their anger and frustration are entitled to do that,” McGlyn said yesterday. “That will happen: it goes with the territory.
“But if you’re realistic and take everything on board at what’s happened here and where we’re going – trying to bring younger players through and get them to gain experience to handle these situations – then it is a learning curve based on the future.
“It’s only two or three weeks ago [when Hearts beat Inverness in the League Cup semi-final] that all these young players were the best thing since sliced bread and all of a sudden it’s going the other way. Football’s like that. Should it be in the circumstances we’re having to work under?”
Hearts are tenth in the SPL at present, ten points behind second-placed Motherwell, eight adrift of third-placed Caley Thistle, and half a dozen points off the top six - although they have a game in hand on some of the clubs above them. Finishing in the upper half is therefore not beyond them – but even if they fail, McGlynn thinks the stark contrast in personnel between this season and last has to be taken into account.
As a lifelong Hearts fan, he celebrated the triumph over Hibernian in the 2012 Scottish Cup final as much as any other supporter, and saw it as more than compensation for a relatively poor showing in the league. Similarly, he is sure that if Hearts win the League Cup for the first time in half a century, this season will also be seen as a success.
“We’re 90 minutes away from giving the fans the success they want in an incredibly difficult season. It’s unbelievably difficult,” he said. “Yet we could possibly win back-to-back cups – it’s 50 years since Hearts won the League Cup. I still don’t know the last time Hearts won trophies in successive seasons.
“Hearts won the cup with players I’ve unfortunately not had the pleasure to work with. We’ve lost our captain Marius Zaliukas, Danny Grainger, we’ve not had the use of Jamie Hamill. We’ve lost David Templeton, Ryan McGowan and now Andy Driver.
“Who was Hearts top scorer last season? Rudi Skacel. Who was second top scorer? Andy Webster with four goals. Andy’s not scored his four goals this season. And we’re missing Skacel’s goals. That’s basically the difference.
“We’ve not got Ian Black to produce that ball. Or Stephen Elliott. Or Craig Beattie. Or Suso.
“It’s not rocket science. There has to be a wee bit of realism here at what’s actually going on. I think a lot of people do, and it will be a minority who don’t, want to understand the situation.”
The injury problems McGlynn mentioned are not clearing up either. Hamill, out all season because of injury, has suffered a setback to his recovery, while Darren Barr remains a doubt after kast week’s clash of heads with Danny Wilson.
“Jamie has picked up a thigh strain and hasn’t trained this week. Darren will train today after his head knock, which looked bad at the time but wasn’t as bad and the doctor was positive when we came in on Monday.
“That’s carried on through the week and he’ll train, which he wouldn’t do if he wasn’t 100 per cent. Callum Paterson is another one who came on the scene and was having a great season but it was cut short. That’s half a team.”