After Hearts won eight of their first 10 games last season – including a win over Celtic – some were asking if they could be title contenders.
Manager Craig Levein talked about his side showing the same “hunger and ambition” as the 1986 team in which he played – the one that lost the Premier Division on the final day of the campaign.
Less than a year on and it is a completely different tale. Levein is under scrutiny for Hearts’ recent form, which has left them joint bottom of the top flight.
Two years to the day since he began his second spell as Hearts manager, BBC Scotland looks at whether that criticism is merited.
How bad has their form been?
The Tynecastle side have failed to emulate last season’s quick start, but their poor run stretches back quite some time. In fact, after taking 25 points from the first 30 available in the Premiership last term, they won only 14 of their next 42 games – and five of those were against lower-league teams.
A dominant performance at Motherwell earned Hearts a place in the League Cup quarter-finals but only after a shaky group campaign in which they lost to League One part-timers East Fife on penalties.
The last 10 league games make particularly grim reading and are a far cry from the “hunger and ambition” of early last season. However, it is worth noting that Ross County are the only team from outside last season’s top five that they have faced in that time.
Levein v Levein
Levein has been in charge of Hearts for a total of 266 games across both his spells.
His first four-year stint is widely considered to have been a relative success, particularly given it earned him a move to Leicester City in 2004.
But, when you look closely at the numbers, the total win percentage is not dissimilar to his current tenure – and respectable compared to the other managers in long-term charge since 2010.
Aside from Robbie Neilson – who won an impressive 58.49% of his games in charge – Levein’s second spell is up there with any other manager afforded more than 50 games.
And those who suggest Levein’s second spell has been as bad as Ian Cathro’s short stint, the latter’s 23.33% win percentage compared to the former’s 41.66% should put that argument to rest.
What has gone wrong?
Total win percentage aside, the fact remains that Hearts’ recent form has not been good enough. The free-scoring and resolute defence of the start of last season has been flipped on its head, but why? Is it down to the personnel at Levein’s disposal?
Steven Naismith was in fine form at the beginning of last season, starting all 10 of the undefeated run of league games. But he has made just two cameo appearances in the last 10.
In one, the 3-2 defeat way to Aberdeen, he scored with his first touch and transformed the game. Aberdeen were 2-0 up and cruising, but Hearts may even have gone on to win had it not been for a silly red card and an even sillier foul to give away a penalty.
Peter Haring is another who has been sorely missed, the holding midfielder starting only two of the last 10 – and the Austrian is not expected back until the end of September.
However, it is interesting to note that the only major personnel change at the back is Christophe Berra, who only played two of the unbeaten 10 games last season but started all 10 of this recent dire run. On that evidence, might Levein be better partnering new recruit Craig Halkett with John Souttar when the latter returns from injury?
Hearts welcome Hamilton Academical and Motherwell in their next two home fixtures as they attempt to record their first Premiership win since 30 March and head into the international break with a little more confidence.
One thing is for sure – if Levein is unable to break the winless streak in a run of league fixtures that feature no sides currently in the top five, the pressure is only going to build.
‘Levein has been given everything’ – analysis
Former Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart on Sportsound
Levein has been given everything you could ever want as a Hearts manager yet finished outwith what Ann Budge regards as the set barometer of success – third place – by finishing sixth two years in a row.
At the start of last season, she said “we want to be in the top three or four, that is what we plan for, and this season is no different”. Then they finished sixth again. So it always seems as if the goalposts are moved and things are kicked down the line.
Do I think things could be different this season? Yes I do, because I think there’s a genuine squad there of real quality. But I think a genuine good manager shows they can work with what they have. Levein has not been able to do it. It might change now, but we’ll wait and see.