‘It’s a bad atmosphere but I understand fans’ frustration’ - Hearts’ Zdenek Zlamal

Frustration for Hearts' new boss Daniel Stendel. Picture: SNS.
Frustration for Hearts' new boss Daniel Stendel. Picture: SNS.
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It is a big ask given what Hearts fans have endured over the past 12 months but, with a new man at the helm, there has been an appeal for even greater patience.

On Saturday, Daniel Stendel was given a baptism of fire as his new charges were leapfrogged by the team that started the weekend at the foot of the Premiership. But, if the fare on the pitch was an indication of how tough things will be as he tries to pick up the pieces and, ultimately, enough points to start climbing the table, the rumblings in the stand revealed that he will have to do it, at least initially, without the full support of punters who long since reached the end of their tether.

Operating a system of quid pro quo, they respond accordingly to whatever is happening on the pitch but both Stendel and the players insisted that the mood in the ground is not helping.

With only days to work with the squad, there was only a hint of Stendel’s preferred brand of football, as the home side began both halves on the front foot and he extolled a smarter work ethic and higher press. But from a team that lack pace in certain areas and confidence throughout, there was hesitancy as St Johnstone wised up to the tactics and looked to get in behind them.

The Perth outfit have not won at Tynecastle in three years and have not recorded an away win on league duty since 29 December last year. In that time, Hearts have struggled to register a home triumph, managing only four in the Premiership, and only one of those has been this term.

In front of fans who have historically been used to Tynecastle as a fortress, that form has only fostered frustrations. On Saturday, they spilled over again.

Hearts had enjoyed a brisk start and, within the first minute and a half, had fizzed a ball across the face of Zander Clark’s goal, won a corner and then forced a save from the Saints keeper as Glenn Whelan fired an effort in from distance.

But there was something lacking in the final third where the impact of Steven MacLean’s savvy was diluted by the fact he had little support in those forward areas. Stendel, who is still waiting to see if he can recruit one of his trusted coaching allies, had tried to prevent that by starting with two up front. But Aidan Keena failed to impress, although most of the men on the pitch found it hard to shine.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” admitted Zdenek Zlamal, inset, who was given the nod in goal ahead of Manchester United loanee Joel Pereira. “It was a nervous performance from everyone. I still believe we could have got a draw. But I don’t know if we even had any chances to score.”

None with serious intent, although it wasn’t only in front of goals that the home side struggled as too many failed to show the composure or 
bravery required to win relegation battles.

Young Aaron Hickey was one of the few to earn plaudits from the new manager, who acknowledged his heart in getting forward and showing a willingness to take possession.

“I think it’s been like this all season, that we are not very confident on the ball,” said Zlamal. “Supporters are shouting to us and it’s a bad atmosphere – but that’s not an excuse. We have to keep our heads up and try harder in the next game.

“The fans are pushing us a lot. But that’s fans. They can do what they want. They buy tickets and they want to see good football. So, I understand that they are frustrated. We are frustrated as well. But it’s a tough situation for all of us.”

The Czech goalkeeper pulled off an incredible save in the 73rd minute, pushing Callum Hendry’s strike up and over the bar. But, from the corner, Hearts were caught out as, this time, Hendry was able to head home and give the visitors all three points and make life even tougher for Hearts who now head into Wednesday night’s home fixture against Celtic.

“We don’t have a long time to think about this loss,” said the Hearts keeper. “The next game comes up quickly. Even though it will be very tough, the positive is that, against St Johnstone, everyone expected us to win and that created pressure. On Wednesday, the pressure is on the Celtic side, so we don’t have to feel too much.”