Ciaran Vance previews this weekend’s Edinburgh derby, where both Hibernian and Hearts will be looking to get their seasons back on track.
“What a difference a day makes,” sang Dinah Washington but Craig Levein will be thinking it’s a year as he wonders how poor the last 12 months have been. After five games his Hearts side currently sit bottom of the Scottish Premiership and fans made their feelings clear with a vocal protest outside Tynecastle after the team were defeated 3-2 by Motherwell. Ahead of this weekend’s Edinburgh derby, the message from fans is clear: Levein must go.
The picture in the capital was much rosier this time last year. Hearts had won their first six games – including a 1-0 victory against Celtic – and were being tipped, alongside Aberdeen and Rangers, as potential threats to Celtic’s dominance of Scottish football.
A poor run of form combined with an injury to Steven Naismith saw them slip down the league places before ultimately finishing in sixth. This season Levein had fans on his back before the league had even started after a disastrous string of performances in the League Cup group stages, including a shootout defeat to East Fife.
The league began with a defeat away to Aberdeen and Hearts’ two points so far this season have come from two home draws. Those two points, along with a point earned at the tail end of the last campaign, make up the three points the club have taken from the last possible 36. They have not won a league match since March 30. They now travel to Hibs for the first Edinburgh derby of the season, however the fans are mixed over what outcome they are hoping for.
Some, rightly so, want the bragging rights afforded by defeating their city neighbours. Others are thinking more methodically, looking for a defeat in the hope it will escalate the process of getting Levein out as soon as possible. Ann Budge’s statement on Wednesday reiterating her and the Hearts board’s faith in Levein done nothing to appease the fans and defeat on Sunday will surely see a demand for action.
Hibs sit across the city in a similar boat. Having played the same amount of matches as Hearts, they sit three places above them in ninth, with two points more, thanks to a win and a draw, coupled with defeats in the other three games.
A victory in the opening game of the season was followed up by a crushing 6-1 away defeat to Rangers and the club’s only victory since came against Greenock Morton in the second round of the Scottish Cup, where they needed extra-time to dispatch the Championship side.
Paul Heckingbottom, who took over from Neil Lennon in February of this year, had a fantastic impact on the side on arrival, going on an 11-game unbeaten run in the league on the way to finishing fifth. Much like Hearts, the start to this season has been poor and reached boiling point in Saturday’s defeat to Kilmarnock where he started the match with six of his summer signings on the bench.
When Heckingbottom decided to substitute fans’ favourite Scott Allan against St Johnstone a few weeks ago, when his side were one goal up, he claimed after the match ended in a draw the jeers of the supporters “transferred onto the players”. His comments did nothing to ease any tension, nor did his tongue in cheek “forgetting the rule” comment about substituting Allan.
By the end of the upcoming weekend, it is possible that either team could be sitting bottom of the table. It would be very difficult to find another game, a derby no less, that has both sets of fans comfortable with either a victory or a defeat. Victory for one side will likely see the manager of the losers lose his job, and it’s hard to see either side being unhappy with that outcome.
Follow Ciaran on Twitter at @ciaranmvance