Hearts have postponed plans for a new hybrid pitch at Tynecastle for 18 months to boost their European ambitions this season.
Owner Ann Budge confirmed the existing rutted surface in Gorgie is being replaced immediately, and head coach Ian Cathro has urged his players to take advantage of the club’s six-figure investment.
A new pitch was due to be laid this summer as part of the £12million main stand project and a hybrid was a serious option. However, Hearts have been forced to relay their turf this week as they approach a critical stage in the campaign.
The new pitch will be ready in time for Ross County’s visit on Wednesday, March 1. It is intended to last until summer 2018 – putting thoughts of a hybrid on hold.
“We’ve reached a point where we had a problem with the pitch and the club are making a significant investment an effort to address the situation, which is in a tough time period with all the games that we’ve got,” said Cathro.
“To be able to act as quickly as we’re acting is a fantastic thing and I can’t imagine many clubs would be in the position to do so. As it stands, we’ve got to be pleased about that and work together to have it ready for the game a week on Wednesday.”
Hearts are currently fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership, five points behind third-placed Rangers. They hope to reach the Europa League qualifying rounds by finishing in the Premiership’s top three or by winning the Scottish Cup.
Asked if his team’s chances of Europe would have been compromised by keeping the old surface, Cathro replied: “Of course yes, because it is more difficult.
“We can’t go too far into thinking that is the case as, no matter what happens. We have games to play on whatever surface and we need to win them. There’s a point where you can’t do anything about it. You just have to win, but you still need to give the players the best possible chance.”
A modern hybrid surface would cost around seven figures but that remains an option for the future. “I would imagine so,” continued Cathro. “When it comes to the longer term, it isn’t beign addressed by what is happening right now.
“We need to just deal with each thing. Everything that is happening at the stadium just now, nothing is coming cheap. It’s an incredible project and, come the other end of that, we’re going to be playing in a fantastic stadium.
“There are so many things going on, none of it’s going to be cheap. We’re fortunate we have a club with leadership and it’s loved by thousands and thousands of people that we can do these things.”
Cathro thanked the Tynecastle board for their support in ensuring the playing surface is brought up to standard quickly.
“It’s another sign of the ambition, the drive and the determination of everybody in the club for us to be as good and as strong as we can to aspire to be better,” he said.
“That’s one of the best things about this football club – the people driving it really want to get better. There is not an added pressure, you feel that anyway. The support is not a surprise to me. I learned that very quickly. That is one of the reasons I wanted to be here because that support and ambition exists.”
Hearts head to Easter Road tomorrow night to face Hibs in a fifth-round Scottish Cup replay.
Cathro believes he and his players are better placed to face their Edinburgh rivals after the first game, which ended 0-0 at Tynecastle.
“I think so. I think that’s one of the positives from the first game,” he commented.
“We can reflect back on it and we have that game to work with and analyse. We’re definitely in a more informed position.
“It was a good first experience for some of the players.
“It just means you know your opponent a bit better, everybody knows the qualities, strengths and characteristics a little bit better. That’s a positive which should aid us a little bit.”
The match cannot be broadcast live because of UEFA rules on Champions League nights. Cathro is aware Scottish fans would rather watch the Edinburgh derby than a European tie involving Leicester City and Sevilla.
“In Scotland, yes, but I think we’ve all got to start winning more Europa League group games to give ourselves a better chance of negotiating at that table. I don’t think we even sit at that table just now.”
Striker Bjorn Johnsen remains an injury doubt for Hearts due to a hamstring strain suffered against Inverness at the weekend. Don Cowie, absent on Saturday with bruised ribs, is available after resuming training yesterday.
“Johnsen has a knock, a degree of discomfort and something that needs managed,” explained Cathro. “It’s nothing that 100 per cent knocks him out of anything. It’s just an issue which will go on for a little while.”