The togetherness and camaraderie that has been evident in the year-long battle to safeguard the future of the club was strained. But Gary Locke, pictured, believes that was as much a reaction to events off the field as any of the players on it.
“I think we can put that down to the fact that fans were looking to get a decision or resolution to the problems off the pitch last Friday and when that decision was delayed I think the frustration spilled over,” said the Hearts manager. “But we felt that frustration as well because we want to get the club moving in the right direction again and I think that came through as soon as there were a couple of wee mistakes. I’m sure people were thinking ‘It’s been a bad week already and now this!’ But it’s important that everyone sticks together and the fans stick by the players.”
With more positive news from Friday’s meetings with creditors and members, Locke hopes everyone can now focus fully on this afternoon’s Scottish Cup match against Celtic, which the administrators admitted could have been the club’s final match if they had not gained approval for a Company Voluntary Arrangement.
“I think the more realistic Hearts supporters appreciate the situation we are in. But it does make it difficult because we are having to play guys who are maybe carrying a wee injury or suffering a wee dip in form and normally you would want to protect them but here they are having to play through that. That’s why I’ve said to our supporters that it is important that they keep supporting them.
“I have worked with young players for a number of years but also with experienced players and it is hard enough for experienced players but with the young players, I’ve found that they need encouraged all the time. I think they respond better to that.”
Hearts have won the last three cup ties between themselves and Celtic, most recently the 2012 Scottish Cup semi final. That day Locke said everyone in the squad believed they could win it, this time around he accepts his team are the underdogs. But that doesn’t mean anyone at the club is writing off an upset.
Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald is one of the few survivors from that last Hampden meeting and having watched Celtic in action against AC Milan on Tuesday, he says there is hope, especially as the Hearts players have regained some self-confidence after recent results.
“I watched the first half and I thought Celtic more than held their own. But they lost a goal they would be disappointed with defensively, a free header from a corner. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re disappointed if that happens to you.
“You look at the goals they lost and it does show us we might be able to get something. They are a very difficult team to break down so it’s something we will look at.”
Defeated 3-1 when the defending league champions and cup holders visited Tynecastle on Premiership duty in September, that match came early in a run of eight league games in which Hearts won only one point. Acknowledging how difficult that spell was, MacDonald says that he and his team-mates have been buoyed by a more welcome return of four points from a possible six in their last two games.
“It’s been difficult at times, not just for me but for the whole team. There are only two or three games where we have been really disappointed in ourselves. In the majority of games we have played well and then given away sloppy goals and those lapses of concentration are killing us. It is something we need to rectify as a team, it’s not just one individual. We’ve all been guilty. The gaffer has been trying to drum that into the boys. And hopefully one day soon it will click.
“We have had a couple more positive results recently so now we have a base there and, hopefully, we can kick on from here.”