Sam Nicholson still believes Hearts are good enough to turn around their faltering fortunes but he says that the players have to recognise the trouble they are in and dig deep to turn it around.
For the second match in succession the Tynecastle club produced a lamentable showing, losing 2-0 against Partick Thistle, to compound the misery of the midweek derby defeat. It means that despite the positives gleaned from the victory over Rangers and then the win at Motherwell at the start of the month, the pressure is now on the team to prove they remain capable of challenging for Europe.
“It’s strange, but it is something we’ve got to try to put our finger on,” said the winger, of the loss in form. “If we don’t it’s going to be a hard end to the season. We’ve got the players there to do it. But, if you want to sit and play pretty football, and pass the ball about, in Scotland, you need to win your battles. You’ve got to earn the right to play. We’ve not done that last two games.
“To be honest, it was embarrassing. Nobody stood up to be counted. Nobody earned their jersey. We’re too busy thinking we’re Hearts and they’re Partick Thistle. But it doesn’t work like that – you need to win battles. You need to show a bit of heart.”
Hearts boss Ian Cathro had shuffled the pack, with captain Perry Kitchen and fellow midfielder Malaury Martin dropping to the bench, while a tight calf ruled out Aaron Hughes, who was replaced by Lennard Sowah in the middle of defence. Not decisive enough in that role, Sowah was to prove the weakest link in a team that seemed lost as they chased around trying to quash a Thistle side buoyed by a bright start.
Having taken the lead in just five minutes through Kris Doolan, who moved to within two of his 100 goals for the club, the home side looked at ease for the remainder of the match and, but for a couple of good saves from Jack Hamilton, Doolan could have hit his hat-trick by half-time.
Even with just the single goal advantage, the Firhill team remained totally in control, as Hearts chased shadows and incurred the frustration of the fans, who found it frustrating to watch. They weren’t the only ones, according to Nicholson.
“I was on the bench [in the first half], so I saw the way it was. I knew changes had to be made but [after coming on] the first time I got the ball, I had to tackle somebody, and the ref gave me a yellow and said: ‘Another tackle and you’re off.’ So that stopped me from going and putting myself about, which I’d do for the club. It was frustrating, because I wanted to show how much I cared. I just feel like we’re not the same over those last two games. Something’s not there.
“It’s about caring for the club, and the fans. Every single one of them was let down. If you don’t care about that, and care about people’s reactions, or see the way the fans feel, you’ve got something wrong with you.”
The problems were magnified when Isma Goncalves was sent off for a second booking on 60 minutes and while it did little to alter the momentum of the match – with Thistle already in control – Alan Archibald’s men did add a second goal. It was Liam Lindsay who had nodded the ball down for Doolan’s early goal and he got his rewards in the 72nd when he got on the end of Abdul Osman’s cross, plucking the ball from the air and lashing it into the net.