BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN believes the progress made by Hearts under owner Ann Budge has been nothing short of a MIRACLE – regardless of whether Sunday’s fixture against Partick Thistle goes ahead.
The Jambos were 30 minutes away from going to the wall in the summer of 2014 following their disastrous descent into administration under the ruinous Vladimir Romanov regime, only for Budge to provide the capital for a £2.5 takeover.
While the plan is for fans’ group Foundation of Hearts to recompense the Edinburgh businesswoman and take control of the club by 2020, she has been anything but an idle owner.
Under Budge’s stewardship, director of football Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson were appointed and led them to the Championship title ahead of Rangers and Hibernian in their first season, racking up a record points total along the way. European qualification was achieved on their return to the top flight.
Although progress on the pitch has stalled – the appointment of Ian Cathro when Neilson departed for MK Dons last November was a catastrophe – it has been full-steam ahead off the field, with more than 8,000 paid FoH members and a new main stand now dominating the Gorgie skyline.
Levein knows there will be a plenty of frustration and disappointment if the Thistle clash is postponed. However, he hopes there is also a sense of perspective.
“It’s been a miracle,” hailed Levein. “If you look at the money we’ve spent and the things we have done over the last three years, it’s just remarkable.
“I was there back in 2004 when there was talk of leaving the stadium and going to Murrayfield and the supporters were up in arms because the wanted to stay at Tynecastle.
“Now we are not only staying at Tynecastle, but it is a new Tynecastle with much better facilities.
“Following a period of administration and supporters having to dig deep – through the Foundation of Hearts, season tickets, commercial investors and other things – so many positive things have happened. I’m really pleased and proud of where we are.”
Hearts are yet to play a Premiership fixture at home this season – with several players describing the four-match residence at Murrayfield as being more akin to a neutral venue – but remain in the top six.
Levein has made no secret of his desire to get his side back to the new-look Tynecastle Park, insisting that the atmosphere and comfort afforded by their spiritual home cannot be overlooked – despite acknowledging it will not be a magic bullet for all of their ills.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to go back there [Tynecastle] and feel better,” continued Levein, who will oversee seven matches at Tynecastle before then turn if the year, should the game against Jags get the green light.
“That doesn’t guarantee we are going to win any games but we’ll feel comfortable and our supporters will be relieved to get back to Tynecastle as well. Historically we get more points at home than we get away from home and the new stand will make a difference as well.”
If Hearts contact the SPFL to request a postponement, for which they do not expect to incur a penalty, it will mean the Jambos will have gone 20 days without a match by the time next week’s visit of Ross County rolls around.
“We’ll play a bounce game among ourselves on the pitch at Tynecastle if it doesn’t go ahead,” confirmed Levein.
However, Hearts skipper Christophe Berra is adamant the players are steeling themselves going ahead and says the uncertainty surrounding the fixture has not been a distraction.
“It’s just been a normal week with our regular schedule and training,” said the Scotland internationalist. “We’ve just been preparing for the game and focusing on what the coaching staff have set up for us.
“I was down at the stand on Thursday. It’s looking good and it’s come on leaps and bounds – but I’m not building control! A lot of it is just cosmetics. The other stuff will be down to safety for the fans.”
Hearts are ready to welcome Aaron Hughes, Arnaud Djoum, Conor Randall and Jamie Walker back to the matchday squad this weekend.