A helicopter hovered over Tynecastle as Hearts slumped to a fifth consecutive defeat and sixth defeat in seven, and there were audible jokes.
There was no flag from the plane, as had been the case with Robbie Nilsson’s charge in the past. But there were chants for the manager to go. And the ax finally fell on Sunday afternoon after the club made the “extremely difficult decision” to part ways with their manager. Some context for the latest disaster, with St Mirren winning at the Gorgie for the first time in a decade, is that the current run hasn’t been this bad since a winter of discontent under Daniel Stendel when they suffered a string of back-to-back defeats.
With free fall and an Edinburgh derby on the horizon this weekend, a potential relegation remains to restart their campaign. This drama should not detract from the magnificent display of friends who continue to journey into uncharted top six territory. But there was a no-holds-barred summit by Hearts players and staff in the dressing room, which was still in session more than an hour after the full-time whistle, and Stephen Kingsley admitted home truths had been delivered.
The defender said: Then we had a bit of a meeting in the dressing room, but honestly these things have to change, the penny has to drop.
“We thought we went through that spell, trying to get things right for this game and win. But it seems to be the same mistakes again, so there’s only so much you can say about that. Everything has to stay at home for the next few days, a few things have to be sorted out and we have to go and win, nothing else can be accepted next week and then we’ll go from there.”
As Hearts dropped third to Aberdeen in the race for European football, there was a toxic feeling in the air at Tynecastle, which grew as an afternoon that had started brightly began to fizzle. Seven minutes after the restart, a superb strike from Curtis Mayne was followed by Alex Gogic’s goal when he deflected Mark O’Hara’s shot.
A red card for Robert Snodgrass was the tin lid on any hope of a fightback and it was left to Kingsley to explain whether it was the coaches or the players who were leading the post-match inquisition.
He said. “Both a bit, at first everyone was together and then after a while it was a bit quiet and the players themselves had a meeting. Hopefully that will make a bit of a difference in the coming days when we actually say something and get it off our chest. But words are words, right? You can talk all day, but at the end of the day, things have to change.”
Nilsson has shown an ability to turn his club’s fortunes around from previous setbacks. But after he hit a perfect storm of key men coming off the boil, as well as the leaders of the field sidelined by long-term injuries at such a crucial time in the campaign, his time at Gorgie was up.
Nervousness spread throughout the team, and at times there were unforced defensive errors on Saturday, such as losing possession or abdicating responsibilities inside the box. As Kilmarnock had done, St Mirren outplayed their opponents and made the most of a contest where the conditions were ripe for a home support ready to turn on their side.
Even Kingsley couldn’t blame the fans for venting their anger and said: “We as a collective need to stand up and show ourselves in a better light and really rise to the challenge that we’re facing right now.”
But he is adamant that a trip to Hibs at the weekend can start the road to redemption and restore the Jambos to the best of the rest. Kingsley added: “Absolutely nothing but victory will be accepted.”
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