Craig Halkett says Hearts must get to grips with relegation battle - and quickly

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel talks tactics with Sean Clare. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
Hearts manager Daniel Stendel talks tactics with Sean Clare. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
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Hearts currently look like the team who turned up at a gunfight armed only with a water pistol.

Stuck in a relegation battle, they admit they are up against sides who have been there and survived many tough scrapes before and, as a result, look better placed to deal with that threat.

After the recent defeat by St Johnstone, they faced Hamilton on Saturday, well aware that another defeat would leave them cut adrift at the foot of the Premiership at Christmas and in desperate need of points from the final two matches
ahead of the winter shutdown, against Hibs on Boxing Day and Aberdeen just a few days later. Still they left the FOY Stadium empty handed and with a mammoth job on their hands over the coming week, as Hamilton celebrated their first win in 12 games.

“We mentioned that,” said defender Craig Halkett. “In the last three games we were looking for at least six points from them but some of the teams down there have been used to being down there battling at the foot of the table and we haven’t. It is an advantage they have over us. But we need to deal with it and dig deep and get out of it.

“We need to learn as quickly as we can about being down there. Everyone has to go away and have a look at themselves and help to figure out what is going wrong here. We need to rectify it and quickly.”

It won’t be easy but somehow they have to weaponise the shame of 
slipping to the bottom of the pile and find a way to turn around fortunes, bringing in some 
big guns for hire or drilling the current squad throughout 
the winter shutdown in the hope they can discover their inner fight.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” 
added Halkett. “The boys are hurting and it isn’t a nice place to be or position to be in. It is only us who can change it.

“Everyone knows it isn’t good enough. We are in a situation where things aren’t going our way and we know it will be difficult to get out of. It may look like we aren’t together but we are. 
We are fighting for each other in this difficult situation.”

This defeat hurt even more, not just because of the consequences but because Hearts had actually looked improved in the first half, winning corner after corner and enjoying plenty of possession. Looking relatively at ease in defence, there were encouraging signs of intent going 
forward, as they took on a young Hamilton side and managed to create
several chances.

They just couldn’t make anything of them, with Steven Naismith, pictured left, volleying wide and Halkett rattling the crossbar with his header,
and that came back to haunt them when Naismith went off with an injury
flare up at half-time and the home side headed out in more determined mood after the break.

For two teams trying to muddle through at the wrong end of the table, the first goal was always going to bolster the belief of the scoring side and awaken the demons in the minds of those who fell behind.

That crucial first goal was netted by Hamilton and it galvanised them, while piling even more pressure on Hearts. George Oakley and Steve
Davies had decent chances prior to the interval but Mikel Millar was more clinical when he was moved up front to spearhead the attack and he made the breakthrough in the 64th minute with a quality finish before supplying Will Collar for the second eight minutes later.

Hamilton were showing great resolve, despite having had a torrid time of their own in recent weeks, but Brian Rice’s youngsters, the oldest of whom was 25, showed they have the hearts of men as they fought for their first win since September.

Exasperated Hearts boss Daniel Stendel shuffled his pack, switching to three at the back, moving Glenn Whelan back to sweeper and sending
Michael Smith forward to give the team more impetus. It did help and Ollie Bozanic pulled one back with a headed finish on 82 minutes. But after a late chance saw Halkett nod the ball across goal only for Luke Southwood to gather Steven MacLean’s attempt, the Aussie’s goal couldn’t even be described as a consolation. Not when the side finished the day at the bottom of the heap.

Next up is the derby, with even more than three points at stake.