STEVEN NAISMITH was a classic example of the sort of player you love when he’s playing for your team but want to inflict unspeakably gruesome forms of torture on when he’s playing against you.

A snarling menace in the ear of referees, a brilliantly cunning forward with a ruthless streak, the proverbial pain in the backside. The sort that would sell his own granny, push her off a bus, whatever it took to get over the line. In short, a winner.

Unfortunately, though, his Hearts team at present bears no resemblance to the player he once was, going down again meekly at the weekend to an admittedly bang in form St Mirren side. They are pedestrian, one paced, and have no clear identity. They look like, and currently are, losers.

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Away from the field, Naismith comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent coach with clear ideas on how the game should be played. Perhaps that is why the Hearts board felt it appropriate to appoint him as manager, despite his lack of frontline experience.

But lose to Kilmarnock on Tuesday evening, and be eliminated from the League Cup, and the grumblings from the support over the poor start to the season Hearts are suffering will ramp up into Defcon 1.

We’re talking cracked crests on the back pages, banners made out of bedsheets with ‘Naismith out’ or ‘Sack the Board’ scrawled on them sort of scenes. And the board must take a hefty share of the blame for where Hearts now find themselves.

They are out of Europe. They are sixth in the table after just two wins, and those were against relegation favourites St Johnstone on the opening day, and a woefully out of sorts Aberdeen side at Tynecastle last week that seems to have fallen into the papering over cracks category rather than signalled a changing of the tide.

They have garnered one point from two home matches against Kilmarnock and a 10-man Motherwell side and been defeated on the road by Dundee and St Mirren. Their next four league fixtures take in a trip to Dingwall to face Ross County, the Edinburgh derby, Celtic and then Rangers. Not the sort of fixtures you want to be staring down the barrel of when you are trying to dig yourselves out of a hole.

It is a hole entirely of their own making, squandering what looked to be – with the greatest of respect - a favourable opening run of games, and it is a start that has left Naismith staring down the barrel himself.

The blame can’t be laid solely at his door, mind, but some of his tactical decisions have rightly been questioned by fans. The call to line up without an attacking presence on the right against St Mirren, for example.

Or his handling of Beni Baningime, throwing him in in away from home in Rosenborg, before realising he wasn’t up to speed and hauling him off at half-time, never to be seen again until he was again thrown into another difficult, physical away test on Saturday.

The lack of pace in his team is notable too. Then you have Lawrence Shankland, the talismanic captain and main source of goals, spending far too much of his time dropping deep just to get a kick of the ball.

Teams have their number. They allow them to have all of the ball, knowing they don’t have the balls to do anything with it. They have failed to score in four of their six Premiership matches so far, despite dominating possession in them all.

But it could easily be argued that it is decisions above Naismith’s head that have led the Jambos to this current state of torpor. Has sporting director Joe Savage, for example, given Naismith the tools he needs to make Hearts Scotland’s third force? The squad seems strong man-for-man on paper, but imbalanced and lacking in width.

And for all the good that Ann Budge has done for the club in terms of its organisation and infrastructure, there can be little argument that she has – along with chief executive Andrew McKinlay – presided over some strange managerial decisions.

The first and most obvious one, admittedly with a fair old dollop of hindsight, was the sacking of Robbie Neilson. Though a section of the support must shoulder some of the blame for that too, with the former Hearts full back inspiring a perplexing level of rage inside some of them no matter what he did.

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Yes, he left first time around for MK Dons, a move I am sure he regrets. In his second spell at Tynecastle in particular, the football wasn’t always the easiest on the eye. And at the time of his removal, Hearts were going through a difficult spell, and had slipped down to fourth. But if that is the parameters for dismissal, Naismith really should be worried.

Ian Cathro. Craig Levein. Daniel Stendel. These are the other managers who have been shown the door at Tynecastle over the past few years. Though, you could also include Frankie McAvoy to that list of infamy after the ludicrous pantomime that took place at the start of this season.

Whatever was said behind closed doors, the farcical public pretence of insisting McAvoy had the final say on football matters due to Naismith’s lack of UEFA qualifications was surely a distraction, and one that will now be cited as a factor in their poor start to the season.

The Hearts hierarchy may argue that if they were winning games then that situation would not be mentioned, but, well, that’s rather the rub, isn’t it?

I am loathe to talk about potential replacements while managers are still in a gig, and the St Mirren fans won’t thank me for this, but the answer could very well have been starting them in the face from the opposite dugout on Saturday.

It is curious when studying that recent list of managers at Tynecastle that the likes of Stephen Robinson, so impressive with Saints and for a long spell at Motherwell, is perceived as beneath the status of the club, when those names weren’t.

It is a moot point, at least for now. Naismith is a young coach, and in time, has signs of becoming a very good one. But should he and Hearts fail to progress on Tuesday evening, it is difficult to see a path through the next four fixtures that results in him still being in a job come the end of them.