Saturday, December 17, 2011

SPL Advent: Hearts

Day five of our SPL Advent. Peace and goodwill to all me. It's a time for stout Hearts.

Somebody suggested that I could fill every day of this SPL Advent writing about Hearts.

And so I could.

The stories just keep coming.

On Thursday we got the news that the club had paid the players their November wages.

So protracted had that issue become that even Paul McBride QC - the Katie Price of SPL self-publicity - had weighed in to lend his support to the players.

This being Hearts we also got director Sergejus Fedotovas auditioning for a stint as a witness at The Levenson Inquiry and throwing blame around like confetti.

Of course, as the Hearts statement made clear, the wider economic situation and the peculiarly false economics of Scottish football make this a very difficult time. But if 11 other SPL clubs are managing to pay their players on time then the one club that fails to do so will be singled out.

That doesn't appear an unreasonable media narrative or a situation tinged with particularly anti-Romanov prejudice.

It seems that while November's wages have been paid, yesterday's December pay date has been missed. The players union has made an official complaint to the SPL. And on and on it goes...

Whatever the truth behind the most recent stramash it seems unlikely that we're close to the end of stories about sales, stadiums and salaries.

So it's hard to summarise the season so far at Tynecastle without addressing the question of just what in the name of Willie Bauld is going on.

But as nobody actually knows what's going on, or how those goings on will eventually impact on the season, adding to the thousands of words of conjecture seems somewhat redundant.

The football started brightly enough. Progress was made in Europe and a decent performance at Ibrox saw Hearts poop Rangers' flag party on the opening day of the season.

The first Edinburgh derby was won with a minimum of fuss and Celtic have been beaten at Tynecastle.

But, and here Hearts share a common SPL failing, it's been a season lacking much consistency.

St Johnstone and Dundee United have taken six points from two clashes, Kilmarnock have taken four.

A goalless draw with St Mirren and a 2-1 win over Inverness at Tynecastle are the only points won out of the last 18.

A win at Dunfermline has provided the solitary away victory and, although they remain fifth, Hearts are closer to Hibs and Dunfermline at the foot of the league than they are to Motherwell in third.

It's all been quite unsatisfactory, an unwanted continuation of the poor run of form at the end of last season.

That's despite the shock-but-maybe-not-that-shocking-actually jettisoning of Jim Jefferies when the season was but three games old.

Paulo Sergio has proved an enigmatically entertaining - if now largely silent - replacement but he's not really had much of an impact on results.

Hearts have scored only four goals in nine away games and share with Hibs the unwanted distinction of being the SPL's lowest scorers. Edinburgh for thrills?

This isn't a team that's turned into SPL whipping boys though. Only Rangers have conceded fewer goals - at one end of the pitch a resilience remains that would be the envy of most clubs.

Many have been the times during Vladimir Romanov's reign that our eyes have been drawn to events away from the football field. It's to the credit of Romanov, his coaches and the players themselves that Hearts have so often risen above that on the pitch.

Maybe that's not the case this year. Or perhaps this is just a holding season, the inevitable period of stagnation as books are balanced and foundations are built for the future.

What that future holds remains the biggest question of all.

And children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow


Answers to some legitimate questions and solutions to some Romanov riddles might be the best presents of all at Tynecastle this year.

Maybe things will become clearer in the new year, maybe some equilibrium will be returned.

Largely, however, that would appear to be in the gift of just one man. And it's not Santa.

So some decent results would be the next best thing. By my reckoning only Dunfermline have taken as few points as Hearts from their last six games in a concertinaed SPL.

I'm sure Hearts fans would identify Easter Road on 2nd January as a fine place to get the season going again.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.