BY ALAN TEMPLE at the Hearts AGM – CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN admits he is stumped by how to solve Hearts’ attacking conundrum after a spate of injuries to his star strikers wrecked his best-laid pre-season plans.
The Tynecastle boss concedes that he is feeling the weight of responsibility after overseeing a run of one win in the Jambos’ last nine fixtures, scoring just four goals in the process.
The absence of Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith due to foot and knee complaints, respectively, have been keenly felt, with the pair having hit the net 15 times prior to being sidelined.
They were also key to the way Levein had coached his new-look outfit to play throughout the summer, leaving them looking bereft and rudderless in recent weeks, relying on an
Last Friday’s 5-0 hammering at the hands of Livingston was the nadir of their campaign, leaving Levein facing some fiery questioning from shareholders at yesterday’s annual general meeting at Tynecastle.
He was brutally honest in response.
“Honestly, I’m struggling to find a system that allows us to score goals,” he said. “That’s on me, absolutely. I go home at night and think about how we fix this and, I put my hands up, I’ve not been able to do it. That’s my responsibility and I feel it every single day.
“I’m trying my best and doing all I can on the training field with Austin [MacPhee, assistant head coach], the rest of the coaches and the players to find a way – short term – of scoring goals and winning games.
“We worked all through pre-season on getting the ball forward much quicker than we did last season. That was the plan and we wanted to put pressure on the opposition, particularly at home. We would play it longer, earlier in the match.
“We had Uche [Ikpeazu], we had Steven [MacLean] and we had Naisy [Steven Naismith] and it worked well. It took some games to get the midfield players into the habit of supporting, but it worked really well in the end. That is what we worked on in pre-season.
“I did not expect to find myself in a situation where everything we worked on in pre-season training resulted in this. Our biggest problem is that we can’t retain the ball in the final third for any period of time. That has been the issue in all the games.”
Given Levein’s candid assessment, the return of Scotland star Naismith for Saturday’s visit to face Aberdeen could hardly be more timely.
“If you trace it back, the decline – if you call it that – started with Naisy going out the team,” said Levein. “We managed to get over Christophe [Berra] and John Souttar dropping out, with Jimmy Dunne and Clevid [Dikamona]. But Uche [Ikpeazu] and Steven Naismith have been the two biggest issues by far.
“What I will say is that I firmly believe that when Naisy comes back on Saturday, that will help us.”
Levein revealed that he held a post-mortem with the Hearts players on Monday morning in the aftermath of their capitulation against Livingston, with a view to ensuring the catastrophic collapse is never repeated.
After falling behind to a Craig Halkett penalty, the Jambos were reduced to ten men following the dismissal of Arnaud Djoum and proceeded to concede another four goals in the space of 14 minutes.
“I honestly don’t know how to explain that,” added Levein. “Recently we have been struggling, I accept that, and confidence is a big thing. Injuries are partly responsible, but there were some things that happened on Friday night that I was completely baffled by.
“The players were doing things that I’ve never seen them do before. I could not believe what I was watching.
“Monday was interesting – we had a long chat about what happened and how we could stop it from happening in the future.”