Olly Lee won't let Hearts' Premiership title challenge collapse
It is a scenario that was expected, but Hearts midfielder Olly Lee is steadfast in his determination not to allow their season to pan out like the cynics thought it would.
A frustrating 1-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock on Saturday has reinforced the view that Hearts will not be able to last the pace at the summit.
The setback against the Rugby Park outfit has left Craig Levein’s side without a goal in four games in all competition, and, consequently, their lead at the top has been wiped out by reigning champions Celtic, who are now ahead on goal difference.
Of course, long-term injuries to Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Steven Naismith and Uche Ikpeazu have weakened the team, even though the rest of the players are reluctant to use the absence of the quartet as an excuse.
Hearts offered a refreshing look to the top flight when they came flying out of the blocks in winning seven of their first eight league matches and Lee is not willing to conform to an acceptance that their season will eventually peter out.
“Personally, it’s a massive burning desire to be not like ‘oh, Hearts had a good start and then fell away’. I’m not gonna let that happen.
“If you’d said we’d be top of the league at this point we’d have taken it. We’ve had a great start but it’s a start. I’ve not come here to say we’ve done well for ten games and then we dropped off.
“I want to be there at the end of the season.
“Maybe a couple of days away on the international break will do us good, refresh us and come back firing.
“We need to dig in and maybe get that scrappy 1-0 win away from home and then kick on from there. It’s building blocks again, getting back to basics.
“We’ve lifted expectation, that’s what we came here to do, to get Hearts fans off their seats again. I think we’re doing that. We’ve got a squad of quality and we can turn this around.”
Lee’s frustration at allowing Celtic to catch them at the top was augmented by the way Saturday’s match played out.
Hearts dominated for long spells but were undone by Ross Millen’s 73rd-minute strike from the edge of the area that squirmed under goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal.
In lamenting a lack of cutting edge, Levein candidly admitted that the aforementioned injuries have not helped. He said: “We’ve created chances – the players who we have out injured, I think it would be easier to score goals if we had them in the team – everybody knows that.
“At the same time, we need people to step up and, at times like this, put the ball in the back of the net.”
Kilmarnock are now just two points adrift of Hearts as they continue their remarkable progress under manager Steve Clarke.
Former Chelsea and Liverpool No 2 Clarke claimed that his team should actually have done better at this stage, and captain Gary Dicker shares that view.
“Perhaps we should have had more points as we’ve dropped some,” he said. “Should we be top of the table? No. The table doesn’t lie. I’ve learnt that over the years. You are where you are.
“Everyone is going to look back and think they might have had this or that, or a decision went against them here or there, but it doesn’t lie. You’ll finish where you should do.
“With our budget, to finish top-six would be a massive achievement. Given the spending power of the teams above us, we should be nowhere near it, but football doesn’t work like that. We pull together. That’s the key.”