Time is a commodity in short supply in football. Teams are expected to hit the ground running and managers are not usually afforded the luxury of limitless months to tinker and tweak a team that continues to underperform.
Time is something Hearts have surely run out of. The punters have certainly expended all reserves of patience, if the fallout from Saturday’s dismal Betfred Cup exit is more than hot air.
In recent years the club has bemoaned their poor fortune in cup draws that pitched them against Celtic or neighbours Hibernian in the early rounds. But, even when thrown in with lowly opposition, they failed to emerge from the group stages, while the absence of Jamie Walker from the line-up prompted even more disquiet.
Which is why everyone, with the notable exception of young Jamie Brandon, who was spared the ferocity of the fans’ fury, left the Tynecastle turf on Saturday to a chorus of booing. It is also why harsh words were exchanged in the dressing room afterwards, according to Don Cowie. But, the time for talking has expired. Even those who continued to back manager Ian Cathro and insisted he needed this transfer window to build his own team and kickstart a tenure that has stuttered and spluttered since he took over eight months ago, have decided enough is enough.
Denied European football due to the poor end to last season, they are already out of one domestic competition despite seven new recruits.
Instead of hitting the ground running, they stumbled, falling flat on their face, undone by defeat by a side in League 2 and then a draw with another side ranked a division below them, they now head into a Premiership campaign burdened by the knowledge that fans are ready to revolt.
Cowie, pictured, says the pressure is something they need to contend with. “You have to deal with it and the majority of us are not doing that. The sooner we do, the better,” he said. “We all know the timespan of a manager these days is very short, so it is only natural we want to get wins on the board.”
On Saturday the Gorgie side took a 19th minute lead courtesy of Kyle Lafferty and Cowie working together, which the latter slotted home. Along with young Brandon, they were the standout performers in a side that lacked a midfield presence and looked ill at ease at the back with costly individual errors.
The advantage was squandered less than ten minutes later when Joe Cardle showed the kind of invention his maroon-clad counterparts lacked, curling in an unstoppable finish. While a draw was enough for Dunfermline, they did not settle for that and, while Hearts did conjure up periods of pressure, it was Allan Johnston’s men who took the lead in the 52nd minute when Declan McManus got the better of John Souttar.
Hearts found a surge of determination late in the game but setpiece after setpiece came to nothing until Malaury Martin finally delivered a free-kick that Dunfermline failed to clear and was ultimately bundled over the line by Isma Goncalves, with four minutes left.
The draw prompted a penalty shootout, but even a bonus point would not have spared Hearts’ blushes or granted them passage to the next round. The spot-kicks were off target but that summed up what has been happening on the pitch in recent months and the gestures and the shouts from the stands suggested that fans are no longer willing to give those responsible time to turn it around.