Far from taking umbrage at the recent mood of Hearts fans, Craig Levein has told the disgruntled supporters to keep cranking up the heat, insisting the onus is on his players to improve and ensure it is the opposition who wilt.
The atmosphere at Tynecastle has become increasingly venomous in recent weeks, with home fans responding verbally to a series of disappointing performances that have left the Georgie side sitting second bottom of the Premiership table.
The 2-2 draw against Hamilton, in their last home outing, prompted calls for an end to Levein’s managerial tenure but, rather than lambast the choir, the Hearts boss has encouraged them to keep demanding higher standards when the team head on to the field to take on Motherwell tomorrow.
“When players join the club, we take them to the stadium and talk about what it is like when it is full and what the atmosphere is like in the stadium,” said Levein, whose lengthy association with the club as a player, manager and director means he is well-acquainted with the match day crowds. “There is always somebody feeling pressure, whether that is the opposition or us.”
But, while other managers have spoken about the tension in the stand having a disabling impact on their players, Levein maintains it is up to his squad to find the strength of character needed to handle that and start delivering the standard of performance necessary to snare the victories required to scale the league.
“I would never ask supporters to blindly support a team,” added Levein.
“If we are not performing to the levels that we should perform to, then, in some ways, I quite like the fact that we have to learn to handle that. You need to feel the downside to feel the benefit of the upside.
“So, I would just ask the fans to keep doing what they are doing. Some people will support and some people will be unhappy, depending on circumstances but I would never criticise any of them. It is our job, myself, the players and the coaching staff to win games, particularly at home, so you won’t hear me having a go at any of them, in fact I agree with them.”
A lamentable run of results, which amounts to 11 league games without a win since Hearts last triumphed, in March, has left some supporters calling for change.
Levein knows he is the one bearing the brunt of the fans’ wrath, with anything less than a win over Motherwell tomorrow likely to further inflame the situation, but he says that is something he has to accept.
“It is personal but I can’t afford to take it personally, said Levein.
“I am the one who puts the team out on the field and I would rather take criticism personally than have it affect the players, although it is hard to separate the two in this stadium.
“I want Tynecastle to be a hostile place for visiting teams but to ensure that it is the visiting team feeling the pressure, we need to perform to a certain level and I wouldn’t have that any other way.
“So, keep doing what you are doing and we will try to get better, that’s the message.”
Hearts will have to do so quickly to release some of the tension and the international break has been used to address some of the issues undermining them in recent weeks.
After some defensive blunders cost the side the upper-hand, the patience of the crowd and, ultimately, maximum points against Hamilton, the hope is that targeted training will pay off against Stephen Robinson’s men and provide a boost ahead of the first Edinburgh derby of the season next weekend.
“We did three sessions [dedicated to defending] which were very helpful. Though you can go out on the training ground and have 30 attacks and not lose any goals – it’s about concentrating during the matches.
“We have lost crazy goals this season, whereas not long ago we were celebrating a clean-sheet record and the players are not a hell of a lot different. We need to get back to that,” said Levein.