Ian Cathro admitted Hearts fans have every right to turn on him after the last game in front of Tynecastle’s 103-year-old main stand descended into an uncomfortable occasion for all connected with the club.
The Gorgie side were jeered off following a 2-1 defeat by Aberdeen and, by the time they returned to the pitch to thank the supporters for their backing this season around five minutes later, most of the home crowd had deserted them.
Of those who remained – 1000 at most – many booed when Cathro emerged to clap them. The head coach, who has presided over ten defeats and only five victories in his 19 league matches in charge, continued to applaud throughout the jeering and appeared to be mouthing apologetically towards them. He had earlier had his decision to replace captain Don Cowie with Bjorn Johnsen loudly derided by the home support.
“The fans have the right to be unhappy and frustrated, and they are,” said Cathro, who remains confident he can win over an increasingly disgruntled public. “They are disappointed and angry. The results that are normal to Hearts haven’t been achieved. The consistency hasn’t been there. That right [to criticise] exists and it’s one of the things that comes at this club.
“It’s a situation where I understand these things. What I am saying, and what the message is, is that whatever situation you’re in, you have to take it – you have to front it up.
“You have to stand up and take those things if you also want to be the guy who stands there when things turn and the feeling is completely different. I hope also that the fans enjoy it when it turns and clap as loud and shout as loud, and it’s for a different reason. Because it is always one of the things I will speak positively about – the passion people have for the club. You take it, and you look forward to the point when it turns round.”
With Europa League qualification looking increasingly unlikely – Hearts are six points behind St Johnstone with only three away games remaining – Cathro concedes that the chance to rebuild at the end of the season is now looming large on his horizon. “We were heading in that direction irrespective of this result, but the thing I look forward to is Tuesday morning when we come back in and work again,” he said.
Big changes are anticipated over the summer, with the club likely to recruit more British players after a January recruitment drive in which nine non-Scots were signed backfired. Cathro expects the Hearts team that plays the next league fixture at Tynecastle in four months time to have a different complexion to yesterday’s. “I am not going to use the word major,” he said, when asked about the prospective summer rebuild, “but I would expect the team to be different.”
With regard to yesterday’s match, Cathro rued Hearts’ inability to capitalise after Esmael Goncalves had cancelled out Adam Rooney’s first-half opener on the hour mark. Substitute Anthony O’Connor restored the Dons’ lead just four minutes later, and the home support grew increasingly agitated as the match wore on.
“We scored and at that moment we had to protect the good work,” said Cathro. “You have to manage your way through the next minutes of the game and make sure you can push again. We didn’t do that. We made a mistake at the set-play and it created a mood. From that point, the game became difficult.”