HEARTS owner Ann Budge has released a statement backing manager Craig Levein and refuting suggestions that the club are lining up a potential replacement for the former Scotland boss.

Levein has faced increasingly loud calls to be sacked from the club's supporters - including a fan protest at Tynecastle after last weekend's 3-2 home defeat to Motherwell - but Budge has leapt to the defence of the 54-year-old.

Budge said: “The board remains behind the manager, his coaching staff and his team. Not because he is “untouchable”, not because he is “all-powerful”, and not because we are “weak”, as has been suggested.  

“We remain behind him because we believe in the plan we have jointly put together.

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“We will continue to scrutinise our on-field performances and should we feel our plans are going astray and our approach needs to be adjusted, we will respond accordingly."

Budge continued: “To repeat just a few inaccurate claims: the board is weak; Craig is running the club; I have lost control; decisions cannot be taken about the manager because he sits on the board. 

“I would simply point out that, unlike other managers, Craig has to present to the full board at every meeting, on how things are going against plan, across all areas of the football operation, including highlighting issues and discussing courses of action.  

“Our board has four non-executive directors, appointed because of their business acumen and experience, whom I, as chairman, consult with on a very regular basis both individually and as a group. 

“This includes discussing on-field, as well as off-field, matters and personnel. So, the suggestion that Craig’s attendance at formal board meetings inhibits open and frank discussion is palpable nonsense.”