Learning how to correct Hearts’ wretched away form would endear Ian Cathro to the Gorgie support forever.
The new head coach garnered plenty knowledge from a 2-0 defeat on his managerial debut at Ibrox. Mostly, he would have been hit by the shuddering reality that, outside Edinburgh, Hearts are a different team.
Cathro’s arrival stirred huge interest in Saturday’s match against Rangers, although it must be said the 30-year-old Dundonian seemed completely unflustered by all the attention. He simply got on with the job. Hearts surrendered rather meekly and could have lost by more than two goals.
Two wins in ten domestic away games this season continues the theme from previous years in Scotland’s top flight. Whether Cathro, Robbie Neilson, Gary Locke, John McGlynn, Paulo Sergio or anyone else is in charge, Hearts’ away form remains lamentable. It is a conundrum the new man would do well to solve, but one which many others have failed to do.
Rangers suffered a 2-0 reverse at Tynecastle ten days previously and were certainly smarting. Cathro and his assistant Austin MacPhee breezed into Riccarton last week ahead of a daunting first assignment. An uninspiring display and some catastrophic defending leaves them plenty to work on this week.
“We knew Rangers would be hurting and we let them get into a rhythm early. Then it was hard to turn the tide and they deserved the win,” admitted the Hearts midfielder Don Cowie. “It’s a different game at Ibrox and Rangers responded really well after losing to us. We’re disappointed in ourselves because we didn’t stamp our authority on the game. We were probably lucky in the end that it was only 2-0.
“The new manager didn’t affect anything. We were confident, unbeaten in six games going into it. The blame stops with the players. We weren’t on the front foot enough. We were hungry and got in Rangers’ faces at Tynecastle. At no point on Saturday did I feel we did that.”
Hearts might have fared better had Cowie’s 16th-minute effort not been disallowed for offside. He knocked home Callum Paterson’s driven ball across goal and set off to celebrate. Almost ten seconds later, assistant referee Stuart Stevenson raised his flag.
“I’ve seen it and it’s onside. There are a lot of bodies so I can see why they’ve got it wrong,” said Cowie. “It’s disappointing how long it took for the flag. It definitely changes the game if we go 1-0 up. We probably wouldn’t have deserved to be 1-0 up but it would’ve given us a real boost.
“As soon as the ball went in, I had a look. You don’t want to go celebrating and then the flag goes up. There was no flag. I’m told the linesman started to run to the halfway line so, in my eyes, I’ve scored. You look a bit stupid when you go off to celebrate and ten or 15 seconds later the flag goes up. Then you see it and it’s clearly onside.
“I don’t know if he’s been getting pelters from fans on that side and he’s thought it was a dodgy decision. They say give the striker the benefit of the doubt but he’s gone the opposite way. It’s frustrating but, if we’re honest, Rangers deserved to win the game.”
With the Hearts defence looking nervous and incoherent, Rangers pressed forward throughout the first half. Rob Kiernan headed them in front from James Tavernier’s free-kick on 29 minutes.
Seven minutes after the restart, the game’s biggest defensive calamity presented Barrie McKay with the second goal. Lee Wallace’s long throw was misjudged by both Igor Rossi and Faycal Rherras and the ball bounced over Rherras to McKay at the back post. He wasted no time dispatching it beyond the Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton.
Only a couple of impressive saves by Hamilton, plus Martyn Waghorn’s profligacy in front of goal, prevented a more emphatic Rangers win. To add to Hearts’ frustration, winger Jamie Walker was booked for diving by referee John Beaton despite being clearly fouled by Rangers’ Jason Holt. After another two late tackles on him in the second half, Walker was forced to limp off.
Of course, all of the above is in a day’s work for a football manager, as Ian Cathro is discovering. “He handled it brilliantly,” continued Cowie. “There’s been a lot made of it in the press but training has been great. There’s real clarity in what he wants us to do. Most of the boys had Robbie for two and a half years and now it’s a change of voice. Ian is trying to put his own ideas on what was a good team anyway.
“It will take a few weeks but it’s exciting times. We looked at times in the game last week against Rangers went we pressed when it wasn’t on to press. He wanted us to be a bit more calm about the situation. At Tynecastle, the fans are behind you and you go gung-ho. You feed off the energy and try to win the ball back at every opportunity. On Saturday, it was a case of: ‘Stay calm and realise the situation.’ Too many of us didn’t do that.
“He [Cathro] is very calm. He’s disappointed with the result and performance but he’s really positive. He believes in the team. We aren’t struggling, there’s real potential here and we can be very good under his guidance.
“His age means nothing. Age is just a number. It’s just like a young player coming in at 18. He’s had a great upbringing in the game and the next step is for him to be the main man. It’s a great opportunity. Hearts is a massive club and he’s determined to make the most of it.”