If it is not a league campaign in which they started 15 points behind everybody else or the demands of administration, then it is a Scottish League Cup third-round tie. The Tynecastle club had started to arrest since progressing from the last round of the competition - when it took a penalty shootout to squeeze beyond Raith Rovers - with their last three matches ending in defeat, a sequence of results which has bruised a young squad. The visit of Queen of the South last night brought another examination of their resolve.
The suggestion of a team in crisis might seem superfluous since Hearts are by now conditioned to a sense of unease and last night they bore their discomfort well in front of a Tynecastle crowd which has suffered with them. The club would share in further anxiety, as their cup tie drew into extra time, even if the Edinburgh side were eventually able to embrace a place among the last eight.
Hearts found Queens to be an inconsiderate house-guest, the Dumfries side sticking their boots in where they were not welcome and making an unseemly racket. Still, Gary Locke's side have become imbued with a need to fight their corner and they were made to slug it out with penalties again, even after Danny Wilson flicked his side ahead three minutes into extra time, the defender stabbing a toe towards a tame shot from Jamie Hamill and finding the bottom corner with the outside of his boot.
It had been a deft touch but progress in the cup had required manful effort. They found a lead after 14 minutes when teenager Gary Oliver - who started alone in attack - buzzed around the Queens penalty area with such persistence that the ball was deflected into the path of Kevin McHattie to finish low. The hosts, though, would emerge after the break having spurned their advantage. Hamill forced them ahead again when he converted a contentious penalty - Chris Higgins appeared to get the ball before Jamie Walker went over - but it took a lot longer for their visitors to be subdued.
The Dumfries side had last season denuded another Edinburgh club, Hibernian, of their ambitions in this competition and tried to catch Hearts with their pants down early on last night. The Tynecastle side were almost left clutching for something to hide their modesty twice inside the first 15 minutes, Iain Russell cutting inside to shoot before Higgins pushed a header over the crossbar from a corner.
Teams from lower leagues will often draw strength from their impertinence in cup ties and Queens were at their most convincing when they sought to bypass Hearts through midfield, with 20-year-old Ian McShane capable of irritating the opposition with a rash of measured passes. It was curious, then, that the Championship side would be at their most threatening when assaulting their hosts from the air.
One clearance from Calum Antell, the Queens goalkeeper, might have endangered the Hearts substitutes had it not been for the intervention of coach Alan Combe. Mercifully, Russell showed greater accuracy after 19 minutes as Queens drew level - the forward clipping a corner on to the forehead of Ryan McGuffie, the defender then prodding in the rebound after Jamie MacDonald had got a hand to the initial header.
Derek Lyle soon resumed the shelling again. A combination of deft passes involving Michael Paton and Derek Young concluded with the ball being slipped through the home defence, only for Lyle to cause a pocket of supporters high in the stand to seek cover.
They would have their heads in their hands once more after an hour. Hearts had recovered their advantage through Hamill's penalty kick but assuredness remained elusive, both when Lyle cantered into the penalty to scud a low pass across the six yard box and then in allowing Paton to steal a march into the area to slide in and turn a shot past MacDonald. The Queens supporters behind the goal lost themselves in a chorus of celebration and they were very nearly hoarse when a late corner was volleyed in by Higgins to register a late equaliser and force penalties.
Lyle and Kevin Dzierawski both thumped spot-kicks into the same net for the Dumfries side but they proved outgunned as Jordan McGhee, Dylan McGowan, and Billy King each converted, before Dale Carrick scored Hearts' fifth penalty and took his side into the quarter-finals.