Hearts defender John Souttar has admitted that a significant improvement in performance will be required if the club is to achieve its ambition of competing in the Europa League next season.
Trailing fourth-placed Kilmarnock by four points, Craig Levein’s side have now won only one of their last six Premiership games (against second-bottom Dundee) and the confidence which the supporters enjoyed in the players at the start of this campaign has long since evaporated.
Of course, there is still the prospect of signing off in the Scottish Cup final but, on this evidence, beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the semi-final is not a given.
Their performance on Saturday lacked more than lustre and Scotland centre-back John Souttar made no attempt to mask his disappointment.
“We said before the game that if we want to be qualifying for Europe then these are the games that we have to win,” he said.
“For some reason, we started slowly. I think we tried to pass it around in the first half which worked occasionally but, as a Hearts team, you have to win second balls, you’ve got to be better than the man you’re up against and you’ve got to be more aggressive.
“A lot of people didn’t do that at Hamilton.
“It’s the same every time you go there – they’ll fight and they’ll scrap and they’ve got a bit of quality and we saw that with their goal. But we weren’t at the races. There were a number of things wrong but we’ll go away and have a look at the game and then see whether the result might not be a fair reflection on what happened.
“We’re getting to the business end of the season and looking back, it was a big chance for us and it’s frustrating that we won’t play again for another two weeks.
“When you get beat you want to get right back out there so the international break makes it tough. But it’s done now so we’ve got to deal with it.”
Souttar, along with his team-mates, was posted missing when Aaron McGowan stole in at the far post to volley home Lennard Sowah’s cross for the only goal of the game but, in fairness, their absence summed up their afternoon; they simply failed to turn up.
Yes, David Vanacek hit the crossbar and Arnaud Djoum saw his effort from the rebound cleared off the line by Alex Gogic but the damning fact is that Accies goalkeeper Gary Woods did not have a notable save to make during the 90 minutes.
Goalscorer McGowan attributed their success to the power of positive thinking introduced by new manager Brian Rice.
“Since he’s come in, he has given us, to a man, a bit more belief,” he said. “We believe now that when we play these big teams, we don’t have to sit back all game and defend. We can attack and get after them because they don’t like it. No- one likes it when we get after them.”
Hearts most certainly didn’t.