Michael Smith became the latest Northern Irish international to join Aaron Hughes at Hearts last week, and the 37-year-old believes Ian Cathro has done some shrewd business in recruiting his defensive colleague.
The 28-year-old right-back penned a two-year contract with the Jambos last Friday after a nominal fee was paid to previous club Peterborough.
With Ashley Smith-Brown joining on a season-long loan from Manchester City the same day, Cathro has secured his first choices for the right and left wing-back berths respectively.
While the left-hand side of defence has been a more pressing problem for Cathro and even predecessor Robbie Neilson, Callum Paterson’s departure left a sizeable gap to fill on the other flank. Smith, Hughes believes, will prove an extremely capable and consistent replacement.
“He’s been involved in a few squads, so I’ve seen him from that point of view,” Hughes explained. “Good player – you know what you’re going to get with Michael. He’s reliable, he can get up and down and technically he’s good too. Maybe he’s one of those ones that might go under the radar a bit but turns out to be a really good signing.”
In Hughes, Kyle Lafferty and assistant Austin MacPhee, there is already a familiar Ulster contingent to ease Smith’s move to Scotland.
“It’s good when you come in to somewhere and see a few familiar faces and you sort of have that chemistry there already,” said Hughes. “It’s an easy dressing-room to fit in to. If you’ve got that head start and someone to break the ice initially it can help you settle in, and that only helps the team once everyone starts gelling together.”
Smith will likely make his Hearts debut in tomorrow night’s friendly against St Patrick’s Athletic, before potentially making a second appearance at Windsor Park – this time in maroon rather than green – against Linfield on Saturday.
Should the NIFL champions progress from tomorrow’s Champions League first qualifying Round second leg against San Marino outfit La Fiorita [they hold a 1-0 lead], the Hearts friendly will essentially be warm-up for the following week’s clash with Celtic at the same venue.
With 106 caps, their Belfast ground is pretty much a second home for Hughes, although he’s looking forward to returning on club duty this time and catching up with an old friend in the opposition dugout.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It should be a good game. I know David Healy [Linfield manager] really well from playing with him. It’ll be a weird thing to play against a team he’s managing. It’ll be nice. It’s a familiar place and a tough test. They’ll be ready because they’re already playing competitive football.”