A lot has changed since those dark days. In fact, very few things have remained the same. Hearts have a new owner, new manager, better players and went into Saturday’s match unbeaten in seven top-flight matches.
Such was the feeling of confidence and self-belief that defender Blazej Augustyn insisted the newly-promoted club could win back-to-back titles by out-gunning Celtic this campaign.
Unfortunately, such talk has already fallen flat. At Fir Park, Motherwell twice led through goals by Louis Moult and Marvin Johnson, and even though Hearts were able to peg them back on both occasions, including a stunning second-half equaliser by Osman Sow, they couldn’t secure the three points required to put pressure on Celtic at the top.
That result, coupled with Celtic’s win at Inverness yesterday, opens up a seven-point gap between the league leaders and Aberdeen, with Hearts now in third place behind the Dons.
Given the recent wave of optimism and expectation, disappointment was to be expected. But seeing how far the club has come between the not-so-distant past and the present day must give them some satisfaction, as well as keeping the unbeaten run going. Right?
“Not at all,” said a fuming Callum Paterson shortly after sitting down to face the media and being asked whether he enjoyed the entertaining, back and forth, 2-2 draw.
There followed an uncomfortable silence and it became quickly evident the right-back was not joking and in no mood to reflect on the positives. “It was just a bad game,” he explained. “Bad result, bad weather, bad performance, bad everything. I didn’t enjoy it at all.”
While the heavy rain and cold temperatures would have made it difficult for any player to enjoy himself, those wrapped up a little warmer in the stands would surely have gained more pleasure from a gripping 90 minutes.
Moult got things started inside two minutes when the striker brought down a high ball in front of Neil Alexander, the Hearts goalkeeper flapping behind him, before knocking it into the net from a yard out. The veteran shot-stopper was adamant he had been fouled, but there appeared to be little contact, and Hearts were not in the mood to complain about the non-decision afterwards.
“Terrible start,” said Paterson. “We lost a goal one minute into the game. I don’t think we’ve ever lost a goal that quickly, not with this team. It’s disappointing because we’ve not been keeping clean sheets recently, but we’ve not managed to collect them in the last two games and that’s bad for us.”
The visitors levelled when Sow released Juanma and the striker showed excellent composure to lift his finish over the oncoming Connor Ripley.
Both teams then had chances before Motherwell pushed themselves back in front midway through the second period. Johnson found the far corner after sprinting onto a loose ball and bamboozling Jordan McGhee to find space for the shot. As great as that strike was, it had nothing on Sow’s equaliser as the forward took aim from 30 yards and watched his effort dip and swerve beyond Ripley into the back of the net.
An even game until that point was then dominated by the away side and they should have taken all three points when Sam Nicholson was presented with an almost open goal. The winger couldn’t keep his composure and lashed his effort over the bar.
“That’s four points dropped in two games and that’s not good enough,” said Paterson. “That’s not where we want to be. There were no words in the dressing room, just disappointment. We know what we’ve done wrong and it’s up to us to sort that.
“No excuse. The pitch is no excuse. The weather is no excuse. It’s down to ourselves. We can’t blame anything for us playing bad.
“Last year we won the league with a record points total. That’s the standard we set ourselves. We looked to take that into this season and we haven’t done that.”