Hearts’ administrators last night revealed that they have failed in a bid to have the club’s transfer embargo lifted.
The struggling Tynecastle club were hit with an automatic 15-point penalty and a player registration ban when they suffered an insolvency event in June last year, and 21 games into the Premiership season still sit on minus two points anchored in bottom spot as they battle to cope with an already threadbare squad.
A Company Voluntary Arrangement has been accepted but the club’s exit from administration cannot be completed until the Foundation of Hearts, the prospective owners, secures a deal with the people in charge of Lithuanian majority shareholder UBIG.
Despite that, 24 hours after the 2 January derby defeat to Hibernian at Easter Road, Hearts assistant manager Billy Brown called for the sanctions to be lifted as he warned manager Gary Locke might have to field schoolboys in the first team.
But joint-administrator Bryan Jackson was given little encouragement from the Scottish Professional Football League when he made enquiries as to whether any relaxation of the sanctions was possible.
Jackson told BBC Scotland “We’ve put all the arguments forward and, not surprisingly, they’ve all been rejected.
“Nothing is going to change with regard to the sanctions and I feel really sorry for Gary in that we can’t do anything to help him.
“Those restrictions are there, we’ve tried and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Jackson also offered his full support for manager Locke, arguing that only “a miracle worker” could do better given the restrictions in place.
Hearts are now a yawning 19 points behind Ross County at the foot of the Premiership, and took just one point – from a draw with St Mirren – from their four festive fixtures.
Unrest has grown among a section of the club’s support, with an increasing number advocating that Locke be removed. But Jackson, whose firm BDO took over as administrators last June, insisted that the manager was the right man to head the club during one of the most difficult periods in its history.
“We’re sticking with Gary, and hopefully Gary’s sticking with us. He’s shown fantastic loyalty since we went into administration and we have to show the same to him. Everybody knows he’s a Hearts man through and through.
“Quite frankly, to even think of changing management at this time, with the squad of players we’ve got, you’d have to be some kind of miracle worker.
“Gary’s doing incredibly well with the resources that he has. Anybody else coming in, they’re going to have the same resources. You also have to remember that we’re here, hopefully in a temporary capacity. So that’s a major decision and something to be considered for the future. That would be for new owners rather than the administrators.”
Speaking after the weekend’s loss to Partick Thistle, their 14th defeat in the league, Locke vowed to continue in the hot-seat.
As Hearts’ chances of retaining their top-flight status have declined, fans have become increasingly split over the manager’s position, but last night an online poll launched on a fans’ forum in the wake of the defeat to Thistle showed nearly 80 per cent of those voting in favour of him resigning.
Asked if he was still up for the task, however, Locke replied: “Of course I am, I am up for the battle. It’s very difficult, it’s hard because we’ve put out a side that is very young but I still feel they should be doing better than they did in the first 45 minutes. We’re up against it, there is no doubt about that. The gap is getting bigger and we need to do better at Tynecastle. Some players seem to do better away from home.”
The Foundation of Hearts, preferred bidders for the club, are still waiting to learn when a Lithuanian court will deliver a judgment on the 50 per cent shareholding in Hearts owned by former parent company Ubig. Until Ubig are allowed to sell their shares to the Foundation, the Company Voluntary Arrangement made at the end of November cannot be finalised.
Only when the CVA is finalised can the club come out of administration. That process is unlikely to be completed before March, meaning the club cannot bring in any new players.