On the 19th of June it was confirmed that Mission Impossible 5 would be coming soon to Scotland. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise wasn’t available to star in this one. Instead Gary Locke, fueled by a bunch of inexperienced kids, have taken on the lead role in trying to do the impossible and keep the “Heart and Soul of Edinburgh” in the Scottish Premiership.
Overturning a 15 point deduction with a squad that has an average age of just 20 and a half is undoubtedly a challenge. But as in the Mission Impossible films, Locke will hope that like Cruise there will be a positive ending and he’ll be the hero; of one half of Edinburgh anyway.
A win over their Auld Reekie rivals in the second game of the season gave the loyal fanbase hope. A great reaction to conceding a penalty by Jamie Walker led to Hearts picking up a draw away to Patrick, then a dream winner for 17-year-old Jordan McGhee in only his second appearance meant the Jambos picked up seven points out of the first twelve available.
Things seemed bright and rosy at 4:45 on that Saturday but perhaps the fans and players began to get complacent. For starters the Jambos had top of the table Inverness and then champions Celtic next. Worse yet, the Jam Tarts would have to face the daunting trip to the Highlands without two of their key defenders. Kevin McHattie was harshly sent-off during the Aberdeen game and inspirational captain Danny Wilson talked himself into a red-card after the match against the Dons.
Some in the media said that the discipline was being lost around Tynecastle. Referee John Beaton did his best to prove that as the case when he sent off Jamie Hamill during the loss to Inverness. Hamill was sent-off for handball, despite the ball clearly hitting his face, which led to the usual cry of conspiracy theories running rampant around Tynecastle. The next match only heightened these calls when Hamill was once again penalised for handball, yet Celtic’s Efe Ambrose went unpunished for the same offence.
However, these calls just seemed to hide the fact that the team wasn’t playing as well as they had at the start of the season. The spirit was definitely still there, but it seemed as if the players had begun to burnout. Since August, the Jambos have only picked up one point out of eighteen and relegation is starting to become a reality in the minds of the Jambos fans.
The Jambos headed into a crucial game against Kilmarnock last Saturday thirteen points behind Killie in 11th. By losing it, Hearts are now back to square one, being a massive fifteen points behind St Mirren, who have a game in hand. This has led to the majority of supporters appearing to accept that it’s likely that Hearts will be playing Championship football next season. Yet, only a quarter of the season has been played.
There is still plenty of time for Gary Locke and his players to turn this around. The young players will need a lot of belief and backing from the stands but even more importantly perhaps from the dressing room. That’s where Locke and his assistant Billy Brown come in.
Locke and Brown are already heroes of the Hearts support. Brown was Assistant Manager when Locke was made captain of his boyhood club. Together they won the Scottish Cup in 1998. Locke missed the final due to injury yet was still part of the celebrations by lifting the trophy with stand-in captain Steve Fulton.
Locke was then part of Paulo Sergio’s coaching team for the Hearts side that hammered their arch rivals Hibs 5-1 in the Scottish Cup Final in 2012. However, succeeding in this upcoming challenge Locke, Brown and his players would become legends in the eyes of the Jam Tarts faithful and the way Locke motivates his players over the next 29 games will be crucial.
Hearts will also be looking to their experienced quartet to inspire their young players. Jamie MacDonald, Danny Wilson and Jamie Hamill have been consistently good performers for the Jambos this season. Nevertheless, with the young players looking a bit complacent and dead on their feet come the tail end of recent games, it’s up to the three of them, plus a returning Ryan Stevenson, to keep them motivated and see them through till the final whistle.
The inability to hold onto a lead in recent weeks has no doubt caused Gary Locke a number of headaches. Without the ability to rotate his squad due to the club’s perilous financial position, Locke is not able to give his young stars the chance to rest. This is proving to be a major problem, as with international commitments as well, the young players are beginning to look physically and mentally tired. Locke will undoubtedly hope that the Foundation of Hearts manage to push through their takeover bid by the time that January comes about so he can bring in a few more numbers.
Will it be all too late by then? Possibly. As I said above, after the extremely disappointing loss at Rugby Park, the Gorgie Boys are back to square one. Therefore, the Jambos can basically write the first quarter of the season off. The team need to focus on the future and the 27 games that are still to come.
But what a way to do that than a derby win at Easter Road in the League Cup on Wednesday night and it is just the tonic that the Jambos needed to get them back on track in completing what is mission impossible.
Written by Jonathan Slatter