Expectations Lowered?

I was a little surprised to see Hearts' excellent website call Motherwell "admittedly unlucky" to lose on Saturday. Me, I haven't seen such a poor Motherwell side for a long long time and had they scrambled an equaliser from Hearts' careless defending, as could have happened on any of four occasions, it would have been an outrage. We could have and should have blown the ex-Steelmen out of the water and if Boyack had scored on 15 minutes to make it 2-0, having taken Cameron's pass of the year round Woods only to be tackled back by the outstanding Scott Leitch, then we'd've won by four or five without coming off the bridle. As it was, Hearts eventually put their sometimes-excellent football to good effect, scoring the goal of the season in the process, passed it around, made space, and although he didn't have a great game (as he himself admitted), Kirk got on the end of two good crosses for two good goals. There was only one team playing football and they were the winners.

Fact is, Motherwell are in dire financial straits having lost all their players of any consequence and in spite of John Boyle's best efforts over the last few years, which we at Heart of Midlothian laughed at because we secretly feared he might be on the right track, the good people of his parish have expressed even less interest in supporting their local team than those Embra WestEnders who didn't even back Hearts during our Championship Challenge of 1998, let alone after it. Top of the League, and we couldn't sell out Tynecastle in March… For all that he's 95% wrong 90% of the time, Chris Robinson spoke with no forked tongue when he expressed pained surprise that many, many more didn't stump up for a season ticket the following year. Embra folk, they just don't want to know about football, good or bad. Motherwell folk, they just don't want to know about anything that isn't Celtic or Rangers and this is what has driven John Boyle nuts.

Motherwell's demise from A Would-be Third Force to the sorry state of affairs seen on the park last weekend may provoke laughter from Hearts fans the world over, but hopefully it puts Hearts' position in a clearer light. We made a big fat loss last year but SMG didn't seem to panic or consider pulling any plugs; we made a bigger loss than Motherwell only because we're a bigger club. Rangers have got an overdraft of £15m and counting (plus liabilities - ie, Tore Andre Flo, the only footballer in Scotland with a silent 'p' in his surname) but it's serviceable. Rangers are more worried about low interest rates on the terracing than the high interest rates in the banks. Everyone has their own view on Jefferies' departure, but a lot of players did seem to be on higher wages than their performances merited, and although the Weeja Meeja made sport of Levein's appointment at the time, saying he'd know where the good players were in the basement divisions, I for one didn't see what was so wrong with that. Thank God for poverty, it was groused last time, if Pounds One Million was going to get us Lee McCulloch (and his wages). This ridiculous myth that Hearts are a 'selling club' (sustained by some Hearts fans, sadly) has to be laid to rest. A selling club is a club which occasionally has to sell a player in order to keep trading. Not being able to afford unbelievably high salaries is not a crime: putting yourself in debt to pay them is. It's great to have great players, but not at the expense of the Club, the team and especially the paying support.

Regular fans to this site will have read of our exploits in Tallinn, but they bear repeating: following the victory over Lantana, we sat in the bar where the wall was signed by Jim Jefferies (fact!).
"Right. All who think David Weir isn't interested in playing for Hearts any more."
Four hands up.
No hands up.

Weir wasted our time all season and Jefferies had to suffer the barbs of idiots who accused him of buying Steven Pressley because he knew for a fact that Weir was on his way. If only he had!! Weir had simply no intention of staying at Hearts so we should have behaved accordingly and not played him. One memory of that strange season which started and finished so wonderfully well is poor old Pressley standing around at right back playing everyone onside wondering why the hell he wasn't playing at centre-half.

I'm not much interested in players who don't want to play for Hearts. Three of the Cup Final Four since departed did not particularly want to stay, Naysmith being the only one who hadn't given a thought to which club he might join. Some supporters have made a point of criticising selling those players, which is a fair enough opinion, but the same people have also expressed dissatisfaction with the money we got for them. Point: if Everton had bought a left-back from the Nationwide, the only reason they would have paid any more than the £1.25 million we got for Naysmith is because some Nationwide clubs' wealth could have tempted their left-back to stay and forced a higher offer, and not because he was actually worth any more. Hearts would only have got more than £1.25m for Naysmith if we'd had the money to tempt him to stay - in which case he wouldn't have left!) Now, I'm as grieved as anyone that Naysmith went, but I'm delighted for him that he's doing so well, playing against some of the very best players in the world, and rather proud that Hearts youth system has produced such a player. There does come a time when a player should join another club to better himself, and not to leave it too long. Naysmith left at the right time for him, if not for Hearts, and I can't feel too bad about it. Unfortunately Craig Brown still thinks he plays for us.

If I was Colin Cameron I'd give plenty of thought before departing for a high wage to the Nationwide. (I doubt that a Premiership cub woul want him - not one that's likely to stay there, anyway.) Naysmith must be good enough for the Premiership when you consider the quality of the average left-back - Chris Powell of Charlton Athletic plays for England, for God's sake! but Cameron isn't good enough for the Premiership when you consider the quality of the average midfielder. Whilst I can't blame any professional for dipping his bread in the gravy, joining an outfit beneath him isn't the way forward, whether it be Derby, Bolton or Wigan Athletic. Cameron is playing at the top of his form at the minute, and at Hearts he can do what he likes and look very good indeed doing it, as he did on Saturday. He played outstandingly well and enjoyed it.

Whatever your attitude towards Jefferies' departure, it's a done deal. We've moved onwards if not upwards. Personally I'm encouraged that Levein has made it plain to his players that, although in charge, he isn't the great strategist and tactician that his predecessor was (er, some of the time anyway) and when they go on the park it's up to them to produce the football. For a long time now I've baldly stated that Hearts have the third-best set of players in Scotland and it's about time they proved it, and against Motherwell we saw a talented Hearts side demonstrate their superior football. So I'm not altogether surprised. What does surprise me (and shocked me against Dunfermline) is that the bastards didn't try to kick us up in the air as per normal. Perhaps they can't afford real thugs any more. A few years ago I whined that if only nasty wee teams like Falkirk and St Johnstone would stop kicking us and let us play, we could beat them easy. That's not going to happen, so the only possible response, of course, is to go and kick them harder, which is Man U's way as it was Liverpool's before them. But Hearts haven't had a dominating midfield presence for many years, and in the absence of one such player we're better off with talented lightweights like Cameron, Boyack (a very good footballer), Makel (yes, Makel) and Tomaschek. They can all scrap when they have to, but what's making Hearts tick at the moment is their mobility and ability. There are no specialists in midfield now - they're all versatile, which makes everything more interchangeable and so more creative. We run the risk of being outfought in that area, true, but the movement is so good that more opportunities are happening around the box. It's football without the fear that used to characterise Jefferies' sides. It's not as good in quality, but it's more risky, more lively, and with our expectations lowered we're all probably enjoying it a bit more.

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