Twelve months from now, Hearts could be in a very optimistic place, potently rebuilding in the SPFL Championship, with a fine crop of young players.

Even better, in terms of ownership, the club will surely be in the safe hands of the Foundation of Hearts, the highly-respected fans group.

But all of that is to be awaited. Right now, Gary Locke and his stricken squad are in a horrendous fix, being whipped on the park, sometimes embarrassingly so, and virtually guaranteed relegation in May.

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Hearts fans must rue the day they ever encountered Vladimir Romanov. His legacy to the club, after seven years of disintegrating rule, is this abject misery and near-ruin.

Bitterness is now creeping in as well. Billy Brown, a Hearts assistant manager who is valiantly fire-fighting alongside Locke, has called for the current Hearts transfer embargo to be lifted, claiming "there has to be leeway" and that "enough is enough".

This could not possibly be allowed to happen - and it won't. There is enough of a siege-mentality around Rangers right now without Hearts suddenly being excused in mid-punishment for their misdemeanours, given the sanctions doled out to the Ibrox regime.

There would be uproar if the SFA were to suddenly say: "You know what…we've thought about what Billy Brown has said and, yep, enough is enough…we're lifting the Hearts embargo."

Clemency has to be merited - and in this case it is not. Both Locke and Brown have acknowledged in the past that Hearts deserved to be punished. That truth cannot be revoked.

Debate has also now surfaced about how well Locke and Brown are doing in their jobs, with their team currently 19 points behind second-bottom Ross County, having picked up 13 points from a possible 63 so far.

The last seven weeks have been particularly awful, with Hearts losing six and drawing two in eight Premiership matches, giving up all hope of top-flight survival.

There is no argument that Locke and Brown face a horrendous task. Their squad is young and threadbare. Jason Holt, one of their best players, is missing through injury. And no reinforcements are currently allowed.

This is one of the toughest gigs any Scottish manager could face - that is universally acknowledged. Nonetheless, Locke and Brown must still be judged on their work. Brown, in particular, has taken a hissy fit over some comments I have made, both in print and on air, in which I suggested that he and Locke could actually be doing better than they are.

Having acknowledged the scale of the job facing them, I still regarded the comments as totally uncontroversial and virtually beyond dispute.

Hearts have won just three league games all season - is it really the case that no other manager could have done better? Is it beyond the pale to even air such an opinion?

My view has never altered on Gary Locke. I believe he is standing up to this Hearts task gamely and bravely, and never shies away from the issues. He is to be greatly commended for that. Locke is no shrinking violet.

But he is also a young, inexperienced manager. A more experienced manager might have done better, or shown greater insight, in this situation. I repeat: "might have." I would think this observation would stand to reason.

Locke's team have won 3-1 away to Aberdeen already. They have beaten Hibs twice so far, once in the Premiership, once in the League Cup.

Winning is not beyond Hearts. Performing well, as Locke himself has said, is not beyond them. It seems to me that, as difficult as this Tynecastle situation is, praising Locke and criticising him must remain a part of our football debate.

Locke himself recently stated: "We can do better. We have to do better. There is no excuse."

I'm not sure if I would say "there can be no excuses" for Hearts. Clearly, there are extenuating circumstances. But, in the main, Locke himself appears to acknowledge that judgements must still be made.

Hearts are doomed. They are going to go down. But I don't buy the view that this should be the trigger for a widespread Jambo gloom.

It may well be that this great Scottish football club revives itself, comes good again in the lower league, and re-emerges in the top flight with a fine, fresh cast of players. I certainly hope so.

That day might even come with the same Gary Locke and Billy Brown at the helm. I hope that happens, too.