"Expectation is the root of all heartache" - William Shakespear
"High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation" - Charles Kettering
Friday night felt a little like groundhog day for us Hearts fans. Another plodding start to a match saw us fail to land a glove on our opposition for the first 25 minutes which resulted in Miles Storey grabbing an early opener but thankfully we gained some control and drew level before half-time through Liam Boyce. There should be comfort that we are another point closer to meeting our key objective of promotion this season but once again many fans were raising concerns around our approach to matches, the tempo we play at and the insistence on playing out of form individuals.
There is certainly a divide amongst supporters at the moment which is heightened by the backdrop of the pandemic which has removed the opportunity to vent and debate post match within the comfort of your social circles and has resulted in everything being dissected on social media. For the record I do not believe that there is a right or a wrong answer when it comes to fan expectation. It is a very personal opinion that can not only be affected by your own standards but also external factors. I for example have had spells in my younger years were the result of a match played a minor role in my weekend. I can look back at games were my team did not turn up but I still have fond memories of the match as it either came before or after a great day out with friends. I am now at a stage in my life were the result and performance has a greater impact on my weekends and I would imagine that will remain until my son is old enough to accompany me to the matches.
The aim of this piece is not to preach but hopefully to provide some data that can help strengthen fans opinion on whether the long term and short term aims of the club are being met.
I decided that to give some proper context to this, I needed to look at our performance during the past 10 seasons and draw comparisons with clubs that have had the luxury of a similar playing budget (Aberdeen & Hibs) and also include the 3 clubs who have over achieved during certain periods of the past decade (Motherwell, Kilmarnock & St Johnstone).
The data is split into different categories:
Points system based on league position(in premiership seasons) and cup runs
Average points accumulated Home & Away (in premiership seasons)
Average Goals scored Home & Away (in premiership seasons)
Results against the Old Firm
A cup win earns you 5 points
2nd place earns you 4 points
3rd place earns you 3 points
4th place or runner up in cup earns you 2 points
5th place or cup semi final spot earns you 1 point
Using this criteria saw the following results
Aberdeen - 42 points
Hearts - 22 points
Motherwell - 22 points
Hibs - 19 points
St Johnstone - 17 points
Kilmarnock - 10 points
Average Home Points Accumulated
Aberdeen - 1.68 points
Hearts - 1.53 points
Motherwell - 1.50 points
St Johnstone - 1.43 points
Hibs & Kilmarnock - 1.28 points
Average Away Points Accumulated
Aberdeen - 1.55 points
St Johnstone - 1.28 points
Motherwell - 1.22 points
Kilmarnock - 1.15 points
Hibs - 1.15 points
Hearts - 1.04 points
Average Home Goals Scored
Motherwell - 1.48 goals
Hearts - 1.43 goals
Aberdeen - 1.41 goals
Hibs - 1.36 goals
Kilmarnock - 1.33 goals
St Johnstone - 1.18 goals
Average Away Goals Scored
Aberdeen - 1.36 goals
Motherwell - 1.09 goals
Hibs - 1.07 goals
Kilmarnock - 1.06 goals
St Johnstone - 0.99 goals
Hearts - 0.99 goals
Record Against The Old Firm
Hibs - 12 wins & 11 draws
Hearts - 13 wins & 7 draws
Kilmarnock - 11 wins & 13 draws
Aberdeen - 10 wins & 8 draws
St Johnstone - 6 wins & 11 draws
Motherwell - 6 wins & 9 draws
As you can see from the data, away form has been our Achilles heel during the past decade with some fans keen to point out that it stretches even further back than that. It is important to take these stats into consideration when you see the various post mortems this calendar year in reaction to our away performances in particular. These reactions I believe are not to push an agenda for change within the current management set-up but more the concerns of a support who have seen this story play out before under various managers.
There may be cause for optimism though when it comes to addressing this.
Recent Recruitment - A key factor within the recent criticism aimed at the team is that we are struggling to set the right tempo at the beginning of matches and also seem reluctant to play a more direct style, with our passive tempo allowing the opposition ample time to get their shape correct and plenty of bodies behind the ball. The signings of Gnanduillet, Mackay-Steven & McAneff would point towards an intent to get more pace width and drive in the final third of the park. The fruits of this may not be seen on a consistent basis until next season due to players getting fully up to speed and in the case of GMS finding some form.
Robbie's 1st spell in charge (Premiership stats) - Although the absence of Hibs & Rangers during the 2015/16 will be included within the narrative of this period, the stats do seem to offer significant weight to those fans who are keen to give Robbie Neilson more time to shape his team. In his previous spell we played 27 home games and 26 away in the Premiership and we accumulated an average home record of 2.04 points and 2.04 goals with an away average of 1.38 points and 1.27 goals.
Robbie is just Levein 2.0 - Myth or Valid argument? - This has been used as a stick to beat Robbie Neilson with in particular when debating our current style of play. Although there is evidence to support a link between our passive start to games this seasons and last, that can maybe be attributed more to a malaise that still exists at the club within part of the squad we kept on after our demotion last summer. To try and again offer comfort to myself and others who have been concerned with our recent form, I thought I would compare the stats from above with Jim Jefferies stats during his 2nd spell at the club as his style of play is one that some fans would like to see us return to. The stats do favour Neilson with JJ managing an average home record of 1.61 points and 1.32 goals from 28 league games and 1.39 points and 1.14 goals from 28 away fixtures.
So what can we really learn from this? Well it is imperative that we remember to take stats with a pinch of salt as it can be edited to suit one's narrative or agenda but on the surface the data from Robbie Neilson's 1st spell at the club should be enough to earn him the time he needs to attempt to assemble a squad competing for 3rd/4th spot on a consistent basis.
I suppose there is a balance to our own expectations that we need to try and find as well. Somewhere between appreciating we cannot afford the swash buckling effectiveness of our more successful Vlad Era sides and also not accepting the mediocrity and general acceptance of mid table placings during the Cathro & Levein reigns would do me.
Thanks for reading.