Hearts 0-1 Kilmarnock: Craig Levein tells players to show more balls

Kilmarnock produced another impressive defensive display but fuming Hearts manager Craig Levein offered no defence of his players, who he accused of lacking “the balls to dig deep”.
Chris Burke celebrates his goal at Tynecastle.Chris Burke celebrates his goal at Tynecastle.
Chris Burke celebrates his goal at Tynecastle.

The Rugby Park side moved into the top half of the table after taking the lead just minutes before the interval and while Michael Smith and Clevid Dikamona had a couple of openings for Hearts, who also saw a Steven MacLean effort chalked off for a Clevid Dikamona infringement in the build-up, it was a lead that a woefully poor home side never really looked like cancelling out, let alone overhauling.

It left Angelo Alessio’s side to celebrate their seventh clean sheet of the season and three points as they continue to put distance between their current form and the disappointing start they made to the new term.

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It is a turnaround Hearts can only wish for. After slipping to the foot of the table, there appeared to have been progress, with a derby victory and the League Cup win over Aberdeen temporarily hushing the critics, but a 0-0 draw at St Mirren last weekend and this loss turned up the negativity.

Until now, Levein has tried to take the heat from his squad but his patience has worn thin and he lambasted his players at full-time, insisting they will have no grounds for complaint when others return from injury and leave them kicking their heels.

“[The feeling is] anger for me. We just didn’t do enough to win. I look at the stats and we’ve probably got more possession, chances and all that but for me that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having the balls to dig deep when we need it. Everybody was waiting on somebody else being the one who changed the game. Did they try? Arguably. Did they try hard enough?

Absolutely not. I’ve been at this point in the last four or five weeks where my job when they are struggling is try and support them and help their confidence.

“But we’ve got some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to getting players back from injuries and my point to the players today was ‘don’t come knocking on my door if you’re not selected in the upcoming matches’. Because there’s been plenty opportunities handed out. That wasn’t acceptable. Whatever the stats say, it’s still not what I want us to do at home.

“There’s a difference between trying and absolutely bursting a gut and our supporters expect they absolutely burst a gut. Too many of the players felt a little bit sorry for themselves. You could tell with their body language and that’s the bit that makes me angry.”

With the benefit of the international break, the Gorgie boss is hoping he will have influencers like Steven Naismith, Peter Haring and Uche Ikpeazu back to bolster his options, with Jamie Walker also on the verge of a return.

Ikpeazu sat out this game after complaining of a tight hamstring, while three games in quick succession had also necessitated the resting of veteran MacLean, who started on the bench.It meant a rejig of the line-up, with Ryotaro Meshino spearheading the challenge, supposedly backed up by Sean Clare and Jake Mulraney. Neither delivered on the day when Hearts needed a burst of something more explosive and clinical in attack, but they looked blunt.

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Kilmarnock are a side growing in belief, with much of that confidence stemming from their stubborness and organisation at the back and Hearts are not the only side to hit that particular brick wall. However, they did little to try to knock it down, get over it or nip around it.

The only goal came in the 41st minute when Mulareny allowed Chris Burke to out-jump him far too easily at the far post and the Killie winger bulleted his header past Joel Pereira.

“I am happy because I felt we deserved this result and it is not easy to win at this stadium,” said Alessio. “For this reason I think we played well, especially in the first half.

“In the second half we suffered but it is normal because Hearts pressed higher up the park and created one or two chances.

“But a clean sheet is good. I want to point out the good spirit my team had. We were compact and when that is the case there is not a risk.”