THE tick-tock that has kept Craig Levein awake these past few months finally quietened this week.

Whether he slept any better on Thursday night is doubtful.

Few will have been surprised at Levein’s exit from the Tynecastle dugout. The timing, though, certainly raised an eyebrow.

No sooner had Hearts captain Christophe Berra made his way out of the Hampden media suite after the captain’s call on Thursday afternoon prior to this weekend’s round of Betfred League Cup semi-finals than news broke that a decision had been made on Levein’s future broke.

HeraldScotland:

READ MORE: Neil Lennon: Vitriolic abuse of Craig Levein by Hearts fans was appalling

The fairly crude graffiti painted onto the Tynecastle forecourt on Thursday morning which read “Levein out” doesn’t suggest an author who spent the night awake in a bid to come up with a clever witticism.

And while it looked like a fairly puerile and witless display of ignorance, it underlined just where Levein had found himself and the divisive nature of his continued presence.

The atmosphere around him and club the last few months has felt toxic and from the minute that a crowd of 1000 supporters had gathered in fury outside the front door last month after a defeat to Motherwell, it was always only going to be a matter of time.

Ann Budge was arguably Levein’s biggest supporter. An ally and a friend, she gave him the time to try to fix what had increasingly looked like being perpetually broken, but ultimately Budge would have known herself that push was coming to shove; one doesn’t amass the kind of boardroom power that she does without being able to separate emotion and rationale when it comes to decision making.

That he will see out his contract will give everyone a bit of breathing space but the interesting question is just where Levein can go next.

At just 55 he still has time on his hands. He does not appear to be a guy ready to take up gardening and long walks. Perhaps the recent heart attack he suffered might make him re-evaluate a career that has given him so much yet has never yielded a trophy.

But whatever happens, it would be absurd for the legacy of Levein’s time at the club to be sullied by what has proven to be a misguided step back into the Tynecastle dug-out for a second stint at it. In some ways it might be a case that he was just too close to it.

The downward spiral began last season and was masked somewhat by the feat of getting to the Scottish Cup Final, but the frailties and deficiencies in the squad have been laid bare as this season has unfolded.

HeraldScotland:

READ MORE: Stephen Robinson says his sole focus is Motherwell amid Hearts speculation

If the support are full of recrimination, it will be nothing compared to what Levein has gone through in his quieter moments.

He can hardly stand accused of not giving his all to get the club where they want to go.

There is more to it than just a problem of missing key players at key times and the football on display at times looked like a throwback but Levein was not helped by losing serious influencers. Steven Naismith would be a loss to any dressing room, not least one which was crying out for leadership and responsibility on the pitch.

The fact that the other side of Edinburgh has found themselves mired in a similar situation will have both eased and magnified the situation.

There have been no bragging rights for either side to claim as one half has toiled but rather a situation where they have kept one another company in their misery.

If there was an inevitability about the decision that was coming on Levein, the same can be assumed for Paul Heckingbottom. There was an interesting comment from Easter Road captain Paul Hanlon on Thursday when he dismissed Heckingbottom’s decision to question the commitment of the Hibs players as they drew 2-2 with Ross County on Wednesday night.

Having fought back from a 2-0 deficit to snatch a point it should have felt like one gained rather than three lost.

But the comments were indicative of a manager who will also feel that time is against him as Hibs look increasingly in free fall.

It is patronising to claim that Scottish football needs strong teams in Edinburgh but clubs with the budgets of Hearts and Hibs should not be finding themselves scrapping at the bottom of the table.

HeraldScotland:

READ MORE: Stephen Robinson and Jack Ross early front runners for Hearts vacancy after Craig Levein sacking

Ahead of two League Cup semi-finals this weekend it would be difficult to see either Hibs or Hearts come out with the kind of result that would cheer up their week.

AND ANOTHER THING. . .

Thoughts this week have been with Angelo Alessio and Tyler Rennie.

The former because he was still waiting at 6pm last night for news on what personnel was available to him for today’s trip to Pittodrie at a time when he could barely find a fit defender at the club and the latter for coming to attention while yours truly was holding out on the Scottish FA’s carrier pigeon to bring forth news of Kilmarnock defender Alex Bruce’s red-card appeal.

Rennie, as I’m sure you know, plays/ed for Wigtown & Bladnoch FC in Dumfries. Whatever hullabullo he was involved in the South of Scotland Tweedie Cup all the way back at the end of August has earned him the kind of ban that he will be lucky to serve before retirement.

A whopping 12-game suspension has been administered by the governing body who have accused him of contravening disciplinary rule 202: no player shall commit Excessive Misconduct at a match.

A penalty of a 10-game ban with a two-game suspended sentence hangs over him.

The mind boggles.