The time has come for Craig Levein to call in some IOUs, according to Steven Naismith.
The Hearts manager has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks after his players served up three disappointing home league results in a row.
Those draws with Ross County and Hamilton and last weekend’s loss to Motherwell, when added to tough away outings which ended in defeat at Pittodrie and Celtic Park, have consigned the capital side to the bottom of the Premiership table they topped 12 months ago, and they are still looking for their first league win of the fledgling season.
With a derby and a League Cup quarter-final up next, they need to somehow conjure up a way of winning or the acrimony will only intensify.
But while the manager is under fire, Scotland forward Naismith says it is up to the players to resolve the problem, stating that most of the men in the dressing room are indebted to the boss and insisting it is time they began making the necessary repayments.
“He is taking the flak, massively,” said the experienced frontman. “As the manager, he is there to be shot at and he is experienced enough to deal with it but that’s the thing... I think that there are a lot of boys in the squad who do owe the manager. The manager has put a lot of faith in them, whether that is giving them a new contract or actually bringing them to the club in the first place, giving them a platform to play and we need to get more from some of them. Simple as that. ”
A talismanic figure at the Tynecastle club, the frustration for the former Everton and Norwich City attacker – and his manager – is that he has not been able to exert his influence on the pitch as much as everyone would have liked over the past year due to injuries.
His absences last season coincided with the club’s topple down the standings and this term he has been curtailed by a hamstring strain, which has limited his involvement to only 68 minutes in the league opener, 45 minutes of an aborted comeback against Ross County and the final nine minutes against Hamilton. “You just want to play. You are sitting on the sidelines getting more frustrated than you would be if you were playing because you literally can’t muck in and help things,” he added.
“It is much tougher as you get older because you understand the game more and can see where the mistakes are being made and how games can play out. You also know what you would do to make it better but that is part of being a footballer.
“It is easy to say that we have the players who can turn this around but we need to start doing it. That’s what you say to the players. But it’s not just the injuries, it is the players who have been injured, that’s what is killing us in many respects because it is the experienced side of it that is out. The calmness in games, when you need it, has not been there and we have players who are arguably some of our most creative, myself and Jamie Walker, have been out of the team and a guy like Conor Washington thrives on having that type of player around him. His best performances have been Aberdeen and Motherwell [in the cup], when he played with those types of players.”
Now it is Washington who is sidelined, after pulling up with a hamstring tear last weekend.
“Everything that could go wrong is going wrong at the minute but we just need to work hard to change that,” said Naismith, who returns to the fold, along with Northern Ireland international Michael Smith, for this afternoon’s trip to Easter Road.
Mr Inspirational and Mr Reliable, their absence has been keenly felt and their reinstatement in the starting line-up should galvanise a confidence-hit Hearts side and players who have shied away from taking on-field responsibility.
“It is a different landscape than it was ten years ago, so it’s not as if you are straight in there being quite confrontational but everyone knows where we are sitting and that isn’t good enough,” added Naismith. “The only plus in this thing is the fact that nobody outwith the Old Firm is winning every week. It is still tight and we saw the flip side of this last season when we shot out the traps and Aberdeen didn’t start that well and Hibs didn’t start that well according to everybody but at the end of the season they were the ones challenging for third. But we need to start seeing results. Something has to turn for us to start picking up points and getting wins.”