Hearts 2 - 3 Motherwell: Growing number of Hearts fans losing faith in Craig Levein
One of the few refusing to flinch and who remains adamant that things will turn around is the man in the centre of the storm, manager Craig Levein.
But this defeat by Motherwell was another devastating blow and, the week before the club heads across the city to face derby rivals Hibernian, it was too much for some supporters who protested outside the ground after the final whistle.
It might have been even worse had the home side not managed to defy the fact they had been reduced to ten men, following a hamstring injury to Conor Washington after all the substitutes had been used, and rally in the final period of the match.
It saw them reduce the deficit to a single goal and offered the fans the opportunity to temporarily lay aside their frustrations to roar their men on in hope of an equaliser. But when the whistle sounded the hard reality was that Hearts had lost and fallen to the foot of the Premiership table.
Motherwell had lost to Hearts in the League Cup last month but in claiming revenge at Tynecastle they moved to third spot and showed they have the ability to compete in the higher reaches. A team with a solid defensive foundation, allied to players with the pace and inclination to switch things up going forward with the kind of ingenuity that can trouble opponents, they were able to punish a nervy and one-paced Hearts side.
It meant it was a satisfying afternoon for Fir Park manager Stephen Robinson, even if he was slightly disappointed that his men had given Hearts a sliver of hope as the match neared its conclusion.
“We had a lot of chances we didn’t take and we made life difficult for ourselves at the end,” he said. “We had Devante Cole who went through and forced a brilliant save from the goalkeeper, Liam Polworth went through one on one, Chris Long went through and we also hit the crossbar. So to come to Tynecastle and create that amount of chances was fantastic and I still think there are aspects of our game that can get better. That was the really pleasing thing.”
The Hearts squad had spent the international break trying to remedy defensive frailties but they still managed to contribute to their own downfall against Motherwell.
“It was a hell of a frustrating afternoon,” said Levein. “The goals we conceded today were gifts. A set-piece and free header, a square pass straight to one of their players and a mix-up between Sean Clare and Colin Doyle. Those were not difficult goals to get.”
Easy pickings but Motherwell still showed a clinical edge. The first goal came in the 20th minute when Declan Gallagher’s initial endeavours earned a corner and the defender, who was being touted for a Scotland call-up by his manager afterwards, was on hand to convert the set piece.
A blistering presence, Sherwin Seedorf capitalised on a misplaced Hearts pass and burst through on goal to add a second just seven minutes into the second half. In the 61st minute, Uche Ikpeazu benefitted from the introduction of Manchester City loanee Ryo Meshino when the Japanese playmaker’s deflected effort popped up and he nodded it into the net.
Meshino got on the scoresheet himself in the 86th minute and that might have been enough to earn a point had Clare and Doyle not presented Jermaine Hylton the chance to extend the visitors’ lead in the 66th minute. Instead, all the goal served to do was dilute some of the disharmony and gift Hearts some hope in those final few minutes and perhaps a smattering of belief that maybe, just maybe, Meshino can help turn things around in the weeks and months ahead.