A disappointing loss in Europe, combined with an lacklustre finish to last season, has a section of the Hearts support wondering whether Robbie Neilson is the right man to lead the club forward.
Moira Gordon looks at five areas that will be key to Hearts continuing to improve this season, which should get the entire support united behind the manager once again.
There has been recruitment in this department and there absolutely needed to be. Since the departure of Osman Sow there been a absence of enough pace at tip of the team and a lack of cutting edge. Where there had always been a belief that while there was still time on the clock, there was still hope of a fightback. That faith dissipated the longer last season went on. Things had become pedestrian and predictable in attack. Neilson recognised that and has brought in reinforcements. Provided they can get the international clearance rubber-stamped, Bjorn Johnsen looks like he could be the key piece in the jigsaw. With the pace and physicality the Hearts boss likes and the presence to trouble defenders, like Sow he is good with the ball at his feet and in the air.
Tony Watt also holds promise at this level if he can get a run in the team and channel his self-confidence the right way.
So far Conor Sammon has struggled to impress the fans but for him, like all strikers, it is all about the service he receives from his team-mates.
Getting the balance right in midfield
This is important when Neilson has wingers to accommodate as well as trying to get the right blend between attacking from deep, and offering the right service to the men up top, and providing adequate cover to the defence. At the moment there is cover in every department, but that makes it tricky to keep everyone involved and happy while still maintaining the necessary balance. It becomes even trickier if he opts for two up front, limiting the options behind them even further. Although the likes of Morgano Gomis and Billy King have be declared surplus to requirements, a decent dilemma regards selection with Kitchen, Buaben, Djoum, Cowie, Walker, Nicholson, among others to choose from, which four get the nod and who gets benched. The upside is a bench which relied heavily on youngsters and fringe players last season with have a bit more bite and be blessed with greater experience.
More settled side
Although he has greater choice, there is a benefit in deciding his best team and trying to stick to it. He has done that with the keeper, stating that the No 1 jersey is Jack Hamilton’s to lose and the same principles need to be applied throughout the side. It is one of the fans’ major gripes about the Hearts manager that he often seems to tweak the team for the sake of it, worrying more about playing chess with the opposition management than focusing on his own team and trusting guys who turned in a top performance one week to do the same in the following game. That lack of continuity was seen as a flaw by the fans, especially when it comes to the strikeforce and in form creative players. The fact he has a better strength in depth could make it more enticing to reshuffle the pack on a regular basis in an attempt to keep everyone sharp and all the players happy, but it is a risk and if it throws up less than consistent results, the fans are likely to become frustrated.
The last couple of seasons have exceeded expectations from a club that was, not so long ago, on its knees. But the success of the past two campaigns - sprinting to the Championship title and then following it up with a return to European competition courtesy of their impressive first season back in the top flight - has been build on emphatic starts in league competition. Getting the better of main rivals Rangers and Hibs in the opening fixtures of the Championship campaign was decisive and confidence building, while the momentum they built up with a five-game unbeaten run at the outset of their Premiership season carried them through the rest of the term. This year they have been handed a tough, tough start, with two of the first three matches against the only two teams who finished above them last season and the other versus a team who the Tynecastle side have only defeated once in their last seven meetings. It’s a run of games loaded with menace but if they can come through them with at least five points - somehow muster even more - then they will have given themselves another sound foundation from which to build.
Returning Tynecastle to a fortress
The club has been riding the crest of a wave in the past couple of years, emboldened by a sense of togetherness and a well-earned pride in the way they all pulled together, on and off the field, to turn the tumult of administration into a positive feelgood story. But the last couple of seasons have raised expectations and while that has attracted sell-out crowds it has also forged a sense of entitlement in some of the fanbase and impatience in the glory hunters. That has manifested itself in fans turning on their own players rather than making life uncomfortable for the opposition. Tynecastle is one of the best stadia in the country and can be an absolute fortress, with other teams admitting it is one of the most intimidating places to play but not when the fans are booing their own team off at half-time. That only serves to buoy up the guests and put their own players at edge. There have been times that the team need to do more to invigorate those in the stands but that works both ways. If Hearts - the team and the fans - can tap into the spirit of togetherness that served them well in the recent past, the old lady can regain her fortress status.