Hearts players are now playing for their futures, with manager Daniel Stendel seeking new recruits in the January transfer window.
Defender Craig Halkett acknowledged the situation after defeat by Hamilton on Saturday left the Gorgie club three points adrift at the foot of the Premiership table for Christmas.
In his three games in charge, Stendel, who admitted the need for new faces after this latest setback, has seen his side lose to the two teams who had been below them in the standings, as well as the defending champions, Celtic. He has made it clear to the players that he wants better – from them or from replacements.
A dejected Halkett says the players shouldn’t be surprised by the message. “At a club like Hearts, if you aren’t playing well and doing your job, then the manager has every right to say you aren’t going to play. Everyone is playing for their futures now, we know that.
“We have to work hard in training and start putting performances in on a matchday to stay in the team.”
Hamilton, who started the day level on points but trailing on goal difference, leapfrogged the capital side thanks to goals by Mickel Miller and Will Collar.
Ollie Bozanic pulled one back for the Tynecastle side but it was not enough to claim a share of the spoils or provide a confidence boost as they head into the hugely important Boxing Day derby against Hibs. That late goal was only the second in seven games by a side who have now won only two of their last 26 matches and claimed one point from a possible 21 since their last win in early November.
“We know now we are in a relegation battle,” said Halkett, who insists the players are still fighting for each other and the club, although he conceded it may not look that way.
“We need to sort it and quickly. When you look at the table it is hard to believe we are bottom, we shouldn’t be there. We are too big a club to be where we are.
“We should be challenging at the other end of the table but we aren’t. Hopefully we can react from this and get three points on Thursday.”
Stendel admitted the need for fresh faces after the defeat. “I think we fought for this result but I think it’s better if I don’t say too much about the game and about some performances. We can say it’s all shit but we have two games next week and we need to get our heads up,” he said. “I think we need to change things – either with some players coming back or we need some different players.
“Maybe not everything I want fitted today but we had chances to score and we did not score. The problem is not from the last two weeks but from a long time before.”