CRAIG LEVEIN is adamant he would never criticise Hearts supporters for venting their fury as he emphasised that the onus is on the players, not the fans, to lift the mood at Tynecastle.
There was a toxic atmosphere as Levein’s side played out a miserable 2-2 home draw against Hamilton in their last Premiership outing.
It ensured Hearts still boast just four league wins in the whole of 2019 and the full-time whistle was greeted with a cacophony of jeers and audible chants of ‘Craig Levein, we want you to go’ from the Main Stand.
“I would never ask the supporters to blindly support a team,” Levein said. “If we are not performing to the levels that we should perform to then, in some ways, I quite like the fact that we have to learn to handle that.
“We need to handle that type of pressure at home. You need to feel the downside to feel the benefit of the upside.
“I would ask the fans to keep doing what they are doing. Some people will support and some people will be unhappy, depending on circumstances. I would never criticise any of them. It is our job, myself, the players, coaching staff to win games, particularly at home.
“You won’t hear me having a go at any of them – in fact I agree with them. Keep doing what you are doing and we will try to get better; that’s the message to the fans.”
Levein concedes that the calls for him to quit felt ‘personal’, however he is happy to shoulder that burden if it means less pressure on his players.
Hearts host Motherwell tomorrow, knowing that his position will be under even more fierce scrutiny if their recent malaise continues.
Levein added: “It’s just the way society is. That is what it is like now. It [the criticism] is personal but I can’t afford to take it personally.
“I am the one who puts the team out on the field and I would rather take criticism personally that have it affect the players.
“I want Tynecastle to be a hostile place for visiting teams – but to ensure that it is the visiting team feeling the pressure, we need to perform to a certain level.”
Levein promised to put his underperforming stars through a crash-course in defending over the international hiatus following their woeful lapses at the back against Accies.
And he is content with the results as the experienced coach seeks to rediscover the form which saw the Jambos rack up a record-shattering eight-game clean-sheets on the bounce during the 2017/18 league campaign.
He added: “We did three sessions which were very helpful.
“We have lost crazy goals this season, whereas not long ago we were celebrating a clean-sheet record. And the players are not a hell of a lot different. We need to get back to that.”
Levein will be without talisman Steven Naismith after the striker lost his bid to be fit for the weekend.
He returned from international duty with a tight hamstring and, after only recently recovering from knee surgery, Levein is unwilling to take any risks with the former Norwich and Rangers marksman.
Levein handed the 32-year-old a four-year deal in August and confesses that he must tread carefully with the fitness of one of his prize assets.
He continued: “Naisy didn’t do a pre-season, which I don’t think is a good thing, ever.
“His knee was still recovering from surgery and he did a lot of work on his own – but that’s not the same thing.
“I want to get completely away from this cycle of him being maybe available; not available; can only play half an hour.
“It’s a difficulty and it’s about strengthening programmes, how much running he does and I need to manage that as best as possible. If I put him on the field on Saturday, I couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t break down. That’s my primary concern.
“It’s good that he is an experienced player. He has gone through these things before and understands how it works.”
On-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Joel Pereira and Scotland defender John Souttar will also miss out for the visit of the Steelmen, while Michael Smith will train this morning in a bid to prove his fitness.