HEARTS legend Jim Jefferies believes Craig Levein will be fighting for his job at Easter Road – if he has not already been stripped of it.
The suffocating pressure on Levein was exacerbated on Saturday afternoon in the aftermath of a defensively shambolic 3-2 defeat against Motherwell.
The result saw Jambos rack up a 12th successive Premiership fixture without a win – stretching back to March – and represented the point of no return for several hundred supporters who gathered outside Tynecastle demanding owner Ann Budge to act.
Jefferies insists he can understand the fury of the fans and maintains they deserve better than the current malaise in Gorgie.
As it is, Hearts will go into next Sunday’s Edinburgh derby against Hibs at the bottom of the league but, it seems, with Levein still clinging on to his role in the dugout.
“Listening to his comments on Saturday, Craig still believes he is the man for the job,” said Jefferies. “But if he loses the derby I’m afraid he is going to come under severe pressure – if he’s still in charge when the game comes around.
“With the league performances through 2019, any manager would be under a hell of a lot of scrutiny.
“A win at Easter Road maybe buys you a bit more time.
“This isn’t all based on this season. Hearts didn’t have a good season last year. As I heard [BBC pundit] Allan Preston say on the radio, getting to the Scottish Cup final papered over a lot of cracks.
“You look at those demonstrations at Tynecastle and, although it’s not a nice thing to happen, if you are not getting the results then that’s football. Hearts have brought in a lot of players over the last two or three seasons and the fans deserve better.”
Indeed, Jefferies believes Levein can consider himself ‘fortunate’ to have been afforded the time he has.
The former Scotland manager also serves as director of football at Hearts and has been pivotal in rebuilding the structure of the club from the ashes of administration in 2014; a laudable feat and one appreciated by Budge.
The mutual respect between the pair shines through whenever they discuss one and other in the press, albeit Budge has repeatedly stated that Levein is not ‘bulletproof’.
“Hearts haven’t been playing well, they’ve not been winning and you could say Craig has been more fortunate than other managers,” added Jefferies. “He has been given great backing and support from Ann Budge and, at other clubs, he might not have got that.”
While Hearts descend into crisis, things are hardly rosy across the city, with Paul Heckingbottom being placed under increased scrutiny as ninth-placed Hibs endure a four-game winless streak in the league.
Jefferies added: “Someone said to me the other day, ‘this could be the first caretaker manager versus caretaker manager Edinburgh derby’. It was a joke, but tells you where we are right now.”
Gallows humour aside, tension will abound in Leith. The Edinburgh derby is rarely a fixture for the purists but, given the stakes this time, Sunday’s showdown may just get football stopped.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt this game has taken on an extra edge given the way the two teams have started,” said Jefferies, a veteran of countless derbies as a player, coach and manager.
“It’s going to be a nervy, nervy game. It’s going to be about character, bottle and winning battles – it’s time for Hearts to do that.”