Robbie Neilson admits Hearts are facing a huge summer in the transfer market as he attempts to assemble a squad that can compete in the Premiership.
Supporters fear that the current group of players are not good enough, with Hearts, who could claim the Championship title this weekend if they beat Alloa tonight, limping towards the chequered flag.
Uninspiring performances and the shambolic Scottish Cup defeat to Brora Rangers have led to growing criticism and intense scrutiny of the players and Neilson’s stewardship.
Neilson has so far signed 13 players since returning to the dugout last summer but concedes yet another squad overhaul will be needed.
He said: “It’s about turning the squad over to make sure we get a team which is competitive next year, but it’s about making sure every time we come out a transfer window we are closer to where we want to be which is at the top end of the Premiership.
“This window for me is the one we really need to get things right, make sure we get the right players in.
“Then hopefully once we do that and get to the next January window we will see a far less turnaround of players that’s previously happened.
“I’ve not been here the last three years but there seems to be a number of players coming in and out every window and we have to start somewhere.”
Neilson, whose side are 11 points clear of second place Raith Rovers, added: “We need to be at a stage when we’re going into a window, promoting a couple of younger ones from the academy into the first-team group and maybe bringing in one or two in the January window and maybe three or four in the summer window externally. The rest of it is a solid squad.
“Last summer we were playing in a window where we had already missed a number of players because we didn’t start back until later on.”
Neilson, meanwhile, insists he has the support of owner Ann Budge and sporting director Joe Savage behind the scenes, even if they have not backed him publicly.
Former Hearts captain Steven Pressley criticised Budge for not getting behind the embattled manager and claimed there was a ‘severe lack of leadership within the club’.
Neilson added: “I know Steven well and he’s a passionate guy.
“He’s very passionate about football management and also passionate about Hearts and Scottish football.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and it’s part of being a manager.
“The board, Ann, Joe and everyone at the club have been really supportive.
“They understand in football, and especially at a big club like Hearts, when you lose a couple of games there’s always going to be negativity.
“It’s about getting everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.
“The first objective is to get back in the top flight then build the team again over the summer.
“A lot of the time, people want instant success and it’s got to be done yesterday.
“We’re trying to move this club forward so there’s going to be a few steps forward and a step back.”