HEARTS have another chance on Boxing Day to claim the win that would at last take them to zero points. But the way things have been going in recent weeks, manager Gary Locke could be forgiven for fearing he might be reduced to zero players before he reached that initial points target.
After losing seven goals to Celtic in the Scottish Cup at the start of the month, Locke’s young team did well to restrict the champions to just two goals in their league game at Parkhead on Saturday. But the Tynecastle team could only name four outfield substitutes instead of the usual six, and Locke does not expect the situation to have improved by the time Kilmarnock come visiting on Thursday.
Of the recognised first-team squad, Ryan Stevenson, Jason Holt, Scott Robinson, Gary Oliver and reserve goalkeeper Mark Ridgers were all out on Saturday. Locke could have named two young members of the groundstaff to make up the numbers against Celtic, but he decided such a course of action would be futile at best.
“I think it would be wrong of me as a manager to do that,” he said. “We are a club renowned for developing players, but I had two lads in the squad on Saturday who just left school in July.
“They’re doing okay for the under-20s, but are miles away from the first team. If I was to throw them on at Parkhead against the likes of Commons and Samaras, I don’t think I’d be doing them any favours.
“It’s a situation we’re in, and we have no-one else to blame but ourselves. But I also have to protect these young players.
“I’m not going to point the finger at anyone, because we’re in this mess because of the way the club has been run. It’s our own fault. We’re toiling a little bit just now in terms of numbers, but we’re not going to be able to bring anyone in, so we just have to get on with it.
“The injury situation is there for all to see, and it hasn’t changed. We’ll probably only be able to name four outfield subs again on Thursday.”
Having said all that, Locke has also been encouraged by the spirit his squad have shown, and by the improved organisation they displayed against Celtic. After a run of games against teams from near the top of the table, they now have matches against Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Hibernian and Partick Thistle – still tough fixtures, of course, but ones which afford the manager a degree of
“We’re looking to try and get some momentum,” Locke continued. “There are a lot of games coming up in a short space of time and I just hope we have a squad that is capable of getting through that period. As long as we don’t get more injuries, I’m hopeful that we can get through this period and pick up a few points.
“It was an encouraging performance [on Saturday]. Coming off the back of the last time we played Celtic, it was important that we learned. We showed on Saturday that we had done that.
“Jamie MacDonald has been fantastic. He’s having a great season. When you go to a place like Parkhead, you know that your goalie is going to have to be on his toes and make a couple of saves. Jamie did that and we’re delighted with his individual performance. Overall, I thought the team did a lot better.”
Locke hopes his goalkeeper will be called up to the Scotland squad soon, but knows on Thursday his team must beware someone whose form has seen him return to international selection – Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd. “It will be a difficult game, and Kilmarnock are coming off the back of a good win at the weekend. It will be tough, but it’s one we have to try and win.
“It doesn’t surprise me to see Kris Boyd scoring and doing very well. I touched on it during the summer that, all being well, I would have tried to bring Kris here.
“Unfortunately, with everything that happened, that wasn’t the case. But if you have someone like Kris in your team then you have a chance of winning games, and I think you can see that with Kilmarnock.
“He’s got himself back into the Scotland squad, which shows you the quality he has got. We’ll certainly need to be aware of him on Thursday.”