ANN BUDGE has given embattled Hearts manager Craig Levein a vote of confidence – but insists she is willing to ‘respond accordingly’ if their miserable malaise continues.
Several hundred supporters gathered outside Tynecastle on Saturday to demand Levein’s resignation after the Jambos succumbed to a 3-2 defeat against Motherwell.
It was a 12th successive Premiership fixture without a win stretching back to March and saw them crash to the bottom of the Premiership.
However, Budge is adamant she still has absolute faith in Levein’s ability to turn Hearts’ fortunes around – albeit she dismissed suggestions that the former Scotland boss is ‘untouchable’ due to his dual role as director of football.
She said: “The board remains behind the manager, his coaching staff and his team. Not because he is “untouchable”, not because he is “all-powerful”, and not because we are “weak”, as has been suggested.
“We remain behind him because we believe in the plan we have jointly put together.
“We will continue to scrutinise our on-field performances and should we feel our plans are going astray and our approach needs to be adjusted, we will respond accordingly.”
Levein has been vociferously criticised by the likes of Michael Stewart, Allan Preston and club legend Gary Mackay in recent days, prompting Budge to hit back at what she claims are widespread myths about the way Hearts are run.
Indeed, reckons Levein actually faces more scrutiny than the average manager due to his place in the boardroom.
Budge railed: “To repeat just a few inaccurate claims: the board is weak; Craig is running the club; I have lost control; decisions cannot be taken about the manager because he sits on the board.
“I would simply point out that, unlike other managers, Craig has to present to the full board at every meeting, on how things are going against plan, across all areas of the football operation, including highlighting issues and discussing courses of action.
“Our board has four non-executive directors, appointed because of their business acumen and experience, whom I, as chairman, consult with on a very regular basis both individually and as a group.
“This includes discussing on-field, as well as off-field, matters and personnel. So, the suggestion that Craig’s attendance at formal board meetings inhibits open and frank discussion is palpable nonsense.”
Budge’s ‘Queen of Hearts’ crown is well and truly in danger of slipping among those fans who are furious at her reluctance to act.
However, Budge is attempting to convey calm ahead of Sunday’s crunch Edinburgh derby, claiming that Hearts currently boast their strongest squad since emerging from administration in 2014 and reiterating her faith that their fortunes WILL turn around.
Budge said: “Be assured that we are not ‘burying our heads in the sand’.
“We are in constant dialogue about performances and what is going wrong on the pitch.
“Like every other Hearts supporter at the moment, I am hugely frustrated with the results from the first five Premiership fixtures.
“There is no way any of us set out at the start of the season believing we would be languishing in the bottom half of the table at this point – let alone in bottom position. So what do we do about it?
“What we do not do is over-react, throw all of our plans out of the window and start again!
“We have a very strong squad – arguably the strongest we have put together over the last six seasons.
“We have the mix of youth, experience and quality that we have been striving for and building towards since we returned to the Premiership in 2015.”
In a wide-ranging statement to supporters released last night – and largely negatively received – Budge also cited Hearts remarkable injury list as a mitigating factor.
Aidy White, John Souttar, Ben Garrucio, Peter Haring, Jamie Walker, Conor Washington and Craig Wighton make up a packed treatment room.
But, while Budge accepted that the Hearts hierarchy have made errors of judgements during their tenure, she is convinced their ‘investment will pay dividends’.
“Have we made mistakes at times? Unquestionably, yes. However, running a football club, like any business, is not an exact science.
“None of us will get every decision right and it is so easy to be wise after the event and say “I would never have done that!”
“We have invested heavily over recent years, never more so than this year, to build what we believe will be a winning squad and we remain confident that this investment will pay dividends.
“My message is simple. I would urge you to continue to support the team while we work through this difficult period.”