Hearts: Where has it gone wrong for Daniel Stendel?

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Stendel rues 'really frustrating game' for Hearts

Winless. Pointless. Impotent. Marooned. All words that can be used describe Hearts in recent weeks with Daniel Stendel at the helm.

Under the guidance of the German, defeat in Thursday's Edinburgh derby heralded the former Barnsley man's fourth defeat in four games in charge, leaving his blunt and foundering side three points adrift at the foot of the Scottish Premiership table.

But what does it mean for the Tynecastle club - and how real is the threat of relegation?

Cold reality for Hearts & Stendel

To say things have not got better since owner Ann Budge hired Stendel is an understatement. In fact, quite the opposite.

When the former Barnsley coach was appointed on 7 December, only goal difference kept Hearts from bottom spot, with Hamilton Academical and St Johnstone propping up the table. However, Stendel's team did have a game in hand over St Mirren, who loitered two points above them.

That glimmer of optimism has now been eroded away. One goal scored, seven conceded and not a point gained have summed up the tenure of the 45-year-old so far.

"I know it's not an easy situation," Stendel said after the 2-0 defeat by Hibernian at Tynecastle. "When I spoke with Ann, I wanted to help and I know that we haven't taken a point in four games, so it's frustrating. I know the feeling is that it will never get better, but it will be."

History repeating itself?

Daniel Stendel graphic

A glance at the history books does not offer much festive cheer. The run of defeats not only leaves Hearts anchored to the foot of the table but signifies the worst start to a managerial reign at Tynecastle in post-war times.

Even looking into the more recent past, Craig Levein garnered five points from his first quartet of matches, with Ian Cathro earning four.

Delving into the archives of the 2013-14 campaign - the year Hearts were relegated - there is also a worrying indicator.

Discarding the 15-point deduction given to the club at the start of the season for going into administration, that Hearts team had earned one more point after 20 games than the class of 2019-20. And, remember, without a deduction, Gary Locke's men would have only managed to finish in the Premiership play-off spot.

Case for Stendel's defence

While Hearts have bounced like a brick since Stendel's arrival, to lay the blame of their current predicament at his door is misleading.

It may not come as much of a surprise, but keeping goals out as well as scoring them are both seismic problems for the capital team. Hearts have the third-lowest goal tally in the Scottish top flight, with the second-worst defence.

As always, the devil is in the detail. For every goal Hearts score, they take 11.25 shots, with only 2.7 making it on target. The lack of confidence in the frontline is laid bare when you see the highest scorers - Oliver Bozanic, Uche Ikpeazu, Ryotaro Meshino, Steven Naismith and Jamie Walker - all have just two goals each.

Indeed, the absence of the latter two names is of great importance. Naismith has only managed nine appearances and two goals this season due to injury, a worrying comparison to the 14 strikes in 27 games of last term. Injury has also curtailed Walker's influence since returning from injury, 14 games - and just three goals - his lot so far.

At the other end, the absence of a key man is also being felt. John Souttar has not played since August after undergoing knee surgery. Without the Scotland centre-half, Hearts have recorded the second-worst percentage of saved shots on their own goal in the Premiership, with just 55% of efforts being repelled. Only St Johnstone at 54% is poorer.

What next?

Hearts upcoming league fixtures

Things don't get much easier for Hearts. Their remaining game of 2019 comes at home against Aberdeen, a side they have only managed to beat three times in their last 14 attempts, including a draw and a defeat already this season.

After a winter break and a Scottish Cup tie with Airdrieonians, a long trip to Dingwall is then followed up by the visit of title-chasing Rangers. While relegation contenders Hamilton also have it tough with Motherwell, Hibernian and Livingston up next, 10th-placed St Johnstone will go into the winter shutdown with two games in hand and mid-table opposition lying in wait.

'Confidence will be shot' - analysis

Former Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart on BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound

If you get the right manager in charge, the time it took to get him doesn't matter. But what had to be taken into account was that they were coming into this period in December when there are so many games and it's so difficult to implement your ideas because there's not a lot of training time.

Players, subconsciously, will start to question what's going on. And if they lose their first four games - and the fourth one being at home to Hibs - you better believe your bottom dollar that the confidence is shot but also that in the dressing room they're thinking "are we going in the right direction?" because you don't see anything.

For the first five minutes of the first game against St Johnstone there was a press. Now there is nothing.

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