Hearts analysis: Ian Cathro will get time – but he must use it wisely

Hearts head coach Ian Cathro brought in a plethora of players in January. Pic: SNS
Hearts head coach Ian Cathro brought in a plethora of players in January. Pic: SNS
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Ian Cathro will be given time to address the multitude of issues raised by Hearts’ Scottish Cup defeat against Hibs. There is no question of the Tynecastle hierarchy applying undue pressure on their head coach following last night’s meagre 3-1 loss at Easter Road.

Some Hearts fans reacted angrily after seeing their team eliminated from the cup by their Edinburgh rivals for the second successive season. In particular, the lack of fight and desire from many in maroon on the night led to calls for Cathro to be relieved of his duties after just 13 games in charge.

It won’t happen. Tynecastle officials are content to keep faith with Britain’s youngest manager and retain steadfast belief in his coaching potential. He and assistant Austin MacPhee were handed three-and-a-half-year contracts when they replaced Robbie Neilson and Stevie Crawford respectively in December. Those long-term deals aren’t about to be ripped up - and paid up - in some kind of knee-jerk reaction.

Director of football Craig Levein identified Cathro as his No.1 target once Neilson declared he wanted to leave for MK Dons. Levein believes in long-term plans and is a man noted for patience and considered judgments. Cathro and MacPhee will get time and resources to improve the squad ahead of next season. That’s despite nine new players arriving just last month during the January transfer window.

Cathro is still in the very early stages of his first managerial post having worked as an assistant coach in Portugal, Spain and England. His record in 13 matches is four wins, four draws and five defeats.

He recruited nine new faces, several of them with European and international experience, to reinforce the Hearts squad last month. However, none of them were Scottish and only striker Esmael Goncalves and defender Lennard Sowah had experience of top-level Scottish football.

They still need time to adapt and the feeble nature of the loss to Hibs shows they must learn quicker. Foreign players failing to grasp what is required in an Edinburgh derby is no real surprise but, when you are a well-paid professional, there can be no excuse for poor application or lack of character on a football pitch.

Cathro accepted his share of the blame with an apology at full-time last night. Neil Lennon, his Hibs counterpart, showcased his wily side with a gameplan to attack Hearts and expose their weaknesses. Cathro knows that certain players, some of them recent arrivals, let him and their colleagues down.

Other issues were also highlighted. Jack Hamilton is one of Scotland’s most promising young goalkeepers but has suffered a slight dip in confidence of late. He may benefit from a rest, but that will depend on whether Cathro has sufficient faith in his deputy, the Swede Viktor Noring, to step in temporarily.

In midfield, there are questions being asked of the Frenchman Malaury Martin. Clearly a very able technical footballer, he has yet to impose himself on a game and seems to struggle against energetic, tenacious opponents. He was replaced at half-time in both the original tie and the replay with Hibs because he wasn’t having any influence of note. That can’t continue.

Martin signed a contract until summer 2020 when he moved to Edinburgh from Norway last month. Goncalves did likewise when Hearts paid £175,000 to lure him from the Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta.

The other seven new recruits are effectively on six-month trials in Gorgie. Andraz Struna, Tasos Avlonitis, Aaron Hughes, Lennard Sowah, Alex Tziolis and Dylan Bikey signed deals until the end of the season, while Moha Choulay is on a six-month loan from Stoke City.

That at least gives Hearts scope to reshape the squad again at the end of the campaign if desired. Cathro appears to recognise that some of the above have not delivered. How he redresses the situation will go a long way to determining whether those fans already calling for his head can be persuaded to change their stance.

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