Hearts’ results under Craig Levein over the last 33 games is “relegation form”, ex-Tynecastle midfielder Michael Stewart has warned.
The Scottish Premiership club has the lowest points tally of remaining top-flight sides since losing a League Cup semi-final to Celtic on 28 October.
While top of the table on that date, Hearts now sit bottom with no league wins in 12 games.
“This is not just a flash in the pan, it’s a long-term decline,” he said.
Fans protested outside Tynecastle following the 3-2 home defeat to Motherwell, with supporters’ anger aimed at Levein and Hearts owner Ann Budge.
The Gorgie club now face the prospect of an Edinburgh derby at Easter Road on Sunday against fellow top-flight strugglers Hibernian.
“Questions marks have been raised about Hearts because they’ve got a good squad but they don’t look anywhere near the levels they should be,” said Stewart, who spent a total of four years at Hearts over two spells.
“And it’s poor decision making from the coaching staff as well.
“In the last minutes of the game, you’re losing 3-2, you’re at home, the crowd are angry, the manager is under real pressure, you’ve got a back four effectively in place.
“Tynecastle can be a very intimidating place to go for away players, but for home players there’s real pressure. Some people have got to step up to the plate. The players are not doing well enough, but the manager has got to take a lot of the burden here.”
‘Levein should go, he has to be very close now’ – analysis
BBC Scotland’s chief sports Writer Tom English
This time last year Hibs were fifth and Hearts were top, and now we’re talking about ninth versus bottom. Two crisis managers. Craig Levein has been in that position for quite a while now and that atmosphere on Saturday at Tynecastle – it was toxic, but it’s been toxic for quite a while.
Paul Heckingbottom has not endeared himself to the Hibs fans at all. He’s on a lousy run himself. I think something has got to give at both clubs pretty soon.
The Hearts situation is pretty grave when you see that sort of protest. I think Craig Levein should go. I think he should make the decision himself. I don’t think you recover from that kind of atmosphere. But he is stubborn, I think Ann Budge is also stubborn.
I don’t think any manager in the world – no matter who he is – can continue to lose games and stay in his position. I think Craig Levein is very close now, has to be very close now.