Poor run affecting Hearts players’ confidence

Jamie Macdonald cuts a dejected figure after Kilmarnock's fourth goal on Boxing Day. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Jamie Macdonald cuts a dejected figure after Kilmarnock's fourth goal on Boxing Day. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Young Hearts show inevitable signs of the debilitating effects of dealing with defeat

WHILE his capital counterpart has wasted little time in introducing a behavioural analyst to his Hibs players in the hope that he can help disentangle them from their mental hang-ups of the past and prepare them psychologically for the remainder of this campaign, Hearts manager Gary Locke concedes that is simply another luxury that the Tynecastle club cannot afford these days.

His players’ lack of confidence is plain to see and while Locke will continue to work with them on the training ground in a bid to carve out the wins which will bolster their self-esteem as well as the club’s points tally, he says there is no chance of Hearts being able to bring in outside help.

“We’ve not really got scope to do anything like that because we’ve not got any money,” said Locke. “We just have to stick together as a team, everybody has to stick together, and work hard with and without the ball.”

Hearts have lost their last five games, though, conceding 19 goals and netting just once. It is a spell which has taken its toll on a young squad feeling the unrelenting pressure of having to try to battle back from a 15-point deficit in a bid to stave off automatic relegation. That battered confidence has been evident in recent fixtures with many in the young side abdicating responsibility, hiding or ignoring instructions to pass their way forward, and instead lumping the ball up front, without composure or much hope of actually creating any real openings.

That has led to frustration in the technical area and the stands but Locke acknowledges that remonstrations from the sidelines rarely help in these circumstances, with encouragement being much more valuable.

Locke added: “The only way we are going to get out of this situation we are in is if everybody is together. Players don’t intentionally misplace a pass but we need to get back to keeping it simple.

“The way you get confidence back is by winning games and that’s what we are going to try to do.”

Locke has not had enough players available to fill the bench in the last couple of weeks, illustrating the difficulty of the task faced by everyone at the Gorgie club.

“We’ve got to bounce back. But, you can’t just give people confidence. When you are low in confidence the only way you can get out of it is by working hard and doing the basics right and, if there is an easy pass, just pass it. It’s difficult at the minute because there are a few who are lacking in confidence but the only way they can get that back is by working hard and, hopefully, we can turn the corner.

“They are all good players and we want them to pass the ball but, when you are low in confidence, there’s no doubt about it, you do tend to not want to get on the ball. But we have got to be brave, take the ball and move it and that’s the only way we are going to get back on track because we were doing that earlier in the season when you saw everybody high in confidence but it is difficult with young players because one or two of them have taken a dip but we’ve just got to try to get through this difficult period.”

The paucity of personnel is making Locke’s life almost impossible, especially when injuries have denied him the attacking options of Jason Holt and Ryan Stevenson. The situation also means the pressure on the experienced players is amplified as they are having to shoulder the extra burden of guiding the Hearts fledglings through these fixtures.

A stoic Jamie Hamill said: “To a certain extent it has been hard but I knew what I was letting myself in for when the manager approached me and asked me to continue playing for Hearts.

“Everybody has been asked to put themselves under a bit of pressure but you just have to get on with it. You need to look after everybody on the park. You’ve got myself, Danny Wilson, Ryan Stevenson, Jamie MacDonald, and I think throughout the whole season the majority of the games we have done really well. But it is difficult sometimes with a younger squad – you have to try to help them through the games when sometimes you should be concentrating more on yourself. But it is a team game and we have got to help each other out.”

Given the mood in the camp, a trip to face St Mirren, who beat Hearts earlier this season and defeated form side Dundee United on Boxing Day, appears ominous. As is Thursday’s New Year derby. However, head-to-heads with their city rivals have actually proved profitable for Hearts this term.

Locke’s men have defeated Hibs home and away already this season, in the Premiership and the League Cup, and another win could be the pick-me-up needed at Hearts as they seek to escape from their negative points tally as well as a negative mindset.

“We have been talking about that for a few weeks now, about how still having the minus is a bit of a nightmare, to be honest,” added Hamill. “But, as soon as we get that zero, I think that is when we will be able to start looking on the bright side.”

Despite the circumstances, Locke insists he still looks forward to every game, especially derbies, although he accepts the arrival of Terry Butcher at the helm of Hibs could make Hearts’ task even tougher.

“When Terry went there, there was no doubt in my mind that he would turn it around. He has shown early signs of doing that, so it will be a different game and a different proposition this time and we will have to work our socks off.

“We’ve gone into every derby feeling confident and we competed and, if you do that in derbies, then I think you give yourself a chance of winning. In a derby you have got to compete but failing to do that is one thing that can’t be levelled at us too much this season. I think we have competed well.”

A dip in confidence or a lull in form are things every manager has to expect but, even in the doldrums, a lack of commitment is something Locke won’t excuse and it’s something the players should need no outside help to avoid.