BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS boss Craig Levein admits the sound of his stars squabbling was music to his ears following a frustrating stalemate against Livingston.
The Premiership leaders dropped their first points of the season on Saturday when the stubborn Lions escaped Edinburgh with a 0-0 draw, with Liam Kelly saving a Steven Naismith penalty-kick in the game’s decisive moment.
Levein has revealed that some angry words were exchanged among his players in the Tynecastle dressing room at full-time, who felt the performance had fallen short of the exacting standards that have underpinned their blistering start to the season.
“I opened the door to the changing room and there was a little bit of an altercation going on so I just shut it and left them to it!” smiled Levein. “If you had been in the dressing room afterwards there were a few people having a go at each other.
“It is frustration from the players. They put a lot of effort in and that is one thing I can’t be critical of, the amount of effort we have put into every single match. The stats we have back that up.
“We are working harder than we did last season, we are fitter than we were last season and we have benefitted from that in matches up to now.
“Livingston was the first game where there was a real proper level of frustration. In almost every game we have managed to get in front and that then makes the opposition do something different.
“We couldn’t get that goal on Saturday that would have made Livingston abandon their tactics and try something else. The longer it stayed at 0-0 the more oxygen they got and more belief they could hang on.
“I thought we were particularly wasteful and I thought Livingston defended really well and I have to give credit to them for that.”
The full-time whistle on Saturday was met by jeers from a large portion of the Tynecastle crowd following a frustrating 90 minutes, while Steven Naismith this week urged supporters to get behind the team when games are in the balance.
Levein, employed in some capacity by the club for 22 years, was far from surprised by the reaction and reckons it serves to underline ‘the balls’ needed to play for Hearts.
“Listen, I’ve been here a long, long time and I know what happens if you do not win at Tynecastle; that’s what happens,” continued Levein.
“We speak at length about what to expect at the club when the players come over to visit. We take them to the stadium and tell them ‘It’s quiet just now but sometimes it is fantastic, when we are doing well – and at other times you need big balls to play here!’ That is true.
“I have heard people in the past talk about the Old Firm and players being able to handle the pressure but it is a similar type of thing here.”
Hearts will have an immediate opportunity to get back to winning ways – and appease their demanding fanbase – today when they welcome Motherwell to Tynecastle in the Betfred Cup quarter-final, just 11 days after their 1-0 triumph at Fir Park.
A victory would see the Jambos – who are likely to be without Uche Ikpeazu, their match-winner against the Steelmen last time out – book a trip to Hampden for the first time since tasting defeat to St Mirren in the League Cup final of 2013.
“We are on a good run right now and it would be nice to continue that,” added Levein. “Before the draw I was hoping for anyone at home, so I’ve got my wish and hopefully that will give us a better chance of progressing.
“It’s been a while since 2013. We are playing well, are competitive, have home advantage – and that carrot is big. There are three major competitions in Scotland and this is one of them so we’ll be doing our absolute best to get to the semi-final.”