Ian Cathro is unfazed by the prospect of Hearts playing a string of vital league games away from home at the end of this season and the beginning of next.
In order to accommodate the close-season redevelopment of Tynecastle, and in particular the erection of a new main stand which will take the stadium’s capacity over the 20,000 mark, the Edinburgh club requested the widest possible window between home Premiership fixtures over the summer.
The SPFL have obliged by allowing Hearts to play their final two home games of this season immediately after the split. It was confirmed yesterday that Partick Thistle will travel to Tynecastle on Saturday, April 29 and Aberdeen will be the visitors for the last match in front of the old main stand on Sunday, May 7.
This scenario, however, means that Hearts will finish the campaign with a formidable run of consecutive away matches against Rangers, St Johnstone and Celtic. In addition, with the new main stand not due to open for business until September 9 – the weekend after the international break – Hearts face the prospect of playing as many as five league games in a row on the road at the start of next season. They will, incidentally, play any home cup ties – Betfred Cup or Europa League in July or August – in front of three stands at Tynecastle, but will stage no league fixtures at their home ground for a full four months.
Although Hearts have struggled away from home over several seasons, Cathro is comfortable with the situation. Regarding a hazardous-looking finale to this season’s schedule, the head coach said: “We knew it would be the case with the league allowing us having the last three away to accelerate work on the stand. You are always going to have a situation with three games away but, for me, it’s a fairly balanced situation.”
Cathro is equally philosophical about starting next season with a run of away fixtures. “No, it’s not a problem,” he continued. “We will miss Tynecastle. I will miss it and I’m just getting to know the place. It’s a great place to be tasked with winning games of football. But I’m not stressed about starting the season with games away from home. We will just be looking forward to getting back to playing in front of even more people at Tynecastle, who are demanding that we win.”
With so many away games on the horizon in the upcoming months, and a trip to Kilmarnock this evening, Cathro is aware of the importance of making Hearts a more robust team on their travels. They have won only four of their 20 away games in all competitions this season and just seven of their last 33 on the road – a run stretching back to October 2015.
“We need to address it,” said Cathro. “It’s always different playing at home but, if you want to compete and deliver consistency, then 50 per cent of your games are away. We need to be strong and make the right decisions away. Sometimes it’s a little psychological bit you have to step past, even if you are not aware of it too much.
“I can only really reflect on the games in which I’ve been here and I don’t look at any and think we didn’t win because we were away. It was more about what’s gone on during the game and us needing to perform better in certain parts. It’s never something I am overly obsessed with. It can’t be too big a story for us.”
Meanwhile, Aaron Hughes will remain sidelined for tonight’s trip to Rugby Park, while fellow defender Lennard Sowah is unlikely to be ready to return to the starting line-up.