The Tynecastle side travel to face Hamilton today, looking to steer clear of the Premiership bottom spot and although the reality of playing top-flight games on a plastic pitch is new to the German manager, he says the team simply need to get on with it.
“We can’t rest people,” he said. “You can say one player likes the artificial pitch more than another. But we’re not in a situation where we can say: “Hey, it’s OK, you have a rest.”
“They’re all professional players. This is their job. They can’t say, ‘I’m only playing when the sun is shining and the pitch is dry’. You are wrong here.”
Rather than wrapping returning stars in cotton wool, or trying to protect all of his veteran players, he says everyone has to be up for every match, regardless of playing conditions.
“In the German professional game, there are no artificial pitches. So, yeah, it’s different,” he added. “But normally, when you have a little bit more quality in possession, you can play a bit easier. But [for this game] it’s not important how good we are in possession. It’s going to be close and my experience from the St Johnstone game is that it’s not easy to say we can win this game.
“We’ll do all we can. And we will improve in every game. Wednesday we saw some good signs we were heading in the right direction. I hope tomorrow is another step. But the result matters more.
“I hope we can play with some players who missed Wednesday. Christophe [Berra] is suspended. But, Uche [Ikpeazu, pictured inset] is back, maybe Naisy [Steven Naismith] and we’re looking after Jamie Walker. The chance is 50/50. In the end we cannot change the players who can play. They have all signed a contract for Hearts and we think it’s good enough and they need to show it in the game.” The change of manager, allied to the option of rebuilding or at least freshening the squad in the January transfer window, has bolstered the belief that Hearts are “too big a club” to head down at the end of the season. But Stendel says any player buying into that theory could be shocked.
“I think we need to change some things,” he said. “I cannot say they don’t understand the situation or realise it but I think it’s a difficult situation to think we can do it next year, that we can just win the games that we need in the second half of the season.
“We need to start immediately to change things. We can play better I think but the first thing in every situation is that you bring more attitude, more mentality on the pitch, especially in a game like Saturday.
“I hope we can improve our game more, that we have more control over the game. At the moment there’s a lot of things that influence our game; less confidence, some injuries, the pressure to win the games, maybe. I hope when some players come back and some improve their confidence that we can play better, especially in the last third. We can hopefully create more chances but first we must win more balls, defend better and play easier.”
Recognising the fragility of the players’ mindset after just two league wins this term, Stendel is working on rebuilding self-belief but says, ultimately, it has to come from within rather than him wheeling in a sports psychologist looking for a quick fix.
“You need to demand more from everybody. But, the easiest way for the players to improve is to demand more from themselves, to start to work harder in training. For me it’s also the mentality when we’re not winning. Edinburgh I haven’t seen so much of but it’s a nice town, nice city. But that’s not the reason you come to Hearts. The reason is that you want to play successful football. Every player has to understand that and that I expect more from everybody. Everybody has to start that themselves.”