Fans losing heart with 'freak show'

Football has always been the perfect way for Edinburgh to recover from staging the world's biggest New Year's Eve party. Not this time. The hangover is already there, and Tynecastle on Tuesday might just be the final get-together of those who refuse to toe the party line.

Heart of Midlothian face Hibernian on Boxing Day, rather than the traditional New Year's Day, torn apart by internal conflict on and off the pitch. Of the three players who rebelled against owner Vladimir Romanov's running of the club, Steven Pressley has gone, Paul Hartley seems poised to be jettisoned in January and it can only be a matter of time until Hearts cash in on goalkeeper Craig Gordon.

The ruthless treatment of Pressley has turned most Tynecastle fans against Romanov. The Lithuanian millionaire virtually sacked his captain - just as the defender was about to be granted a testimonial after nine seasons at Hearts - and now supporters fear that Romanov will take revenge on Hartley and Gordon for hijacking a press conference seven weeks ago and making public the "dressing-room unrest" over Romanov's methods.

Hartley, on the bench last week as punishment, and Gordon, who was left out yesterday, would command significant fees if they were sold in the transfer window, and right now Romanov appears to be in need of that. About to open a branch of his own Lithuanian bank in Edinburgh, he has been embarrassed by stories this week, with Hearts facing unpaid bills for policing Tynecastle while Fifa got tough to force the club to settle a £850,000 fee that was owed to Racing Genk of Belgium after the signing of the midfielder Mirsad Beslija last January.

Romanov, who was out dancing on the Tynecastle pitch when his team secured Champions' League football last May, has barely been sighted there recently as his team plunged out of the title fight. The Hearts Supporters' Trust wrote a letter to their absentee owner in midweek, declaring: "You have turned us into a circus freak show - as a result, we have lost our respect for you."

That was underlined yesterday with almost 1,000 empty seats in the away section at Tannadice for the game with Dundee United. Hearts, like the Old Firm, have filled virtually every ground they have gone to in the past year, but now there is resentment.

Gordon, who has assumed Pressley's captaincy but endured a disciplinary hearing in midweek, insists that he will not hand in a transfer request. "At this club, at the moment, you deal with every single day as it comes," said the Scotland goalkeeper. "Anything beyond that, you are likely to be wrong."

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