The curtain came down on Craig Levein’s reign as Hearts manager on Thursday but the seeds of his dismissal had been sown in Perth the previous evening.
The paucity of the performance in the 1-0 defeat by St Johnstone, combined with the depth of anger expressed by travelling fans at McDiarmid Park proved to be the final straw for the Tynecastle board.
Only goal difference is keeping Hearts off the bottom of the Premiership and, in a statement issued just after 4pm, Levein’s sacking was confirmed.
It is understood the board had been keen to give him as much time as possible, and held off making a decision until his team had completed the first round of 11 league fixtures. But having faced every team in the division with just one victory, the directors decided to act.
Assistant Austin MacPhee, who stepped into the void when Levein was recuperating from a heart attack last term, will take charge on an interim basis, starting with Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Rangers at Hampden.
As the board weighs up who should replace Levein, the bookmakers are already tipping former Hearts coach Jack Ross, with Livingston manager Gary Holt, Motherwell’s Stephen Robinson, Scotland Under-21 coach Scot Gemmill, as well as experienced out-of-work duo David Moyes and Stuart McCall.
Whoever comes in will not have to deal with a director of football, with the board announcing that the new manager will report directly to the chief executive, Ann Budge, pictured below.
Levein, a highly respected former Hearts player who was in his second stint as manager, will relinquish his role as director of football and his place on the board. But he will remain at the club, working on backroom structure and youth development, until his contract expires in June.
Hearts made a scintillating start to last season under Levein and were top of the league this time last year. But they tumbled down the table as a string of injuries took its toll and form dipped dramatically.
Reaching a League Cup semi-final and the Scottish Cup final bought Levein time but even another semi-final on Sunday could not spare him the axe.
The Hearts statement said: “The board of directors has taken the decision to relieve Craig Levein of his first team managerial duties.
“The board would like to thank Craig for all of his efforts. Craig has worked tirelessly and selflessly, around the clock, to try to achieve success, despite the many challenges with which he has been faced.
“Craig will not return to his previous director of football role and, that being so, will step down from the board.
“He will, however, see out his contract, working closely with the executive management team in continuing to develop and improve the structure of the backroom and youth operations within the development. We are confident that his knowledge and experience will contribute massively to ensuring that, come the end of the season, he will leave the football department in a healthy and thriving state.”