“Let me say one thing: Nothing can surprise me just now.” Ian Cathro’s Hearts initiation became somewhat brutal with fans jeering at the end of his home debut last weekend. The new head coach insists he is thick-skinned enough to cope.
Cathro’s first two games in charge have witnessed defeat to Rangers followed by Saturday’s 1-1 home draw against Partick Thistle. It is ridiculously early for criticism, but criticise is what some have chosen to do. Hearts head to Dundee tomorrow night aiming to get supporters back on side.
The 30-year-old doesn’t have particularly broad shoulders to look at, but inwardly he possesses a strength of character that will undoubtedly serve him well. He isn’t shocked by the public reaction and philosophically states it is “perfectly normal”.
What he must do over the coming weeks, and specifically the next three games inside eight days, is reverse a trend which will grow if allowed to. Victory on his native Tayside tomorrow would be a crucial precursor to home matches against Kilmarnock on Tuesday and Aberdeen next Friday. Cathro knows good performances and points are what keep fans content.
His intention is clear: Convert the sometimes negative energy inside Tynecastle into a positive.
“You’ve got to feed it. Part of our responsibility is to feed that [energy] and, if you don’t, then the reaction is completely natural,” said the former Newcastle United assistant. “St James’ Park sometimes doesn’t help you either. You want a strong and powerful connection with your supporters. If things are good, phwoar. If things are bad, it’s difficult.”
Cathro remains exactly where he wants to be right now – in charge at a club where there is ambition and passion in the boardroom, the dressing room and the stands.
“I don’t want ten men and a dog. We want to go and work and we want to compete and want to go and go and go and go. We want everyone to come with us,” he emphasised.
“If we are not feeding that then that’s our responsibility. Through time, people will see different things and see parts of the game a little bit differently but it’s our responsibility to feed it. So we need to feed that positive energy and get them to come with us. We need to do it together.
“Once Saturday’s game was not good then that [reaction] becomes normal. Throughout the process of the first half, I would have been surprised if it had happened then but there was a negative reaction when things weren’t good. If the game is going in a negative direction then that is a normal thing. Believe me, everybody here welcomes pressure, everybody. That’s a good thing.”
No-one would welcome heckling towards individual players as happened on Saturday – Conor Sammon being the prime example. Cathro is confident Hearts can transform any negative passion into positives.
“That’s what we do. That’s what everyone does. We live and work day by day in a game where most things are extreme. It is a life of extremes and the ones who succeed and who become people of influence are the ones who can deal with that and be strong and see what is real,” he said.
“When something is great maybe a wee bit of it is real and the rest is nonsense. When it’s not great, maybe a bit of that is real and the rest of it is nonsense. What we need to be is strong and recognise what is real and focus on what is real. That’s how we make ourselves better and how we can come back and fight and fight together and we go, and we go and we go and we go, til the end of time.
“What’s been created is something that’s more of a unique situation than it actually is. If everything is dressed up a bit more then you reach a point where it isn’t real. I’m fine.”
Hearts owner Ann Budge commented at the club’s AGM this week that it could take Cathro up to a year to implement all of his ideas. The head coach certainly wants the process to move along quicker than that. “Yeah. I hope so and I think so,” he smiled.
So far, his players are soaking up information like sponges in their attempts to carry out instructions. Cathro is very clear about making his ideas simple but effective.
“Rule number one: Everything must make sense,” he said. “They need to see what you see. After that, it’s not about somebody being closed to this idea or that idea. You either have the quality to put it across and people want to buy what you’re selling, or they don’t. If they don’t, then you’re going to fail. If they do, you’ve got a great chance of success. Everybody here is buying.”
Hearts were 1-0 ahead through Bjorn Johnsen’s goal against Partick Thistle but surrended the lead after the interval. Cathro said he made no major changes at half-time.
Sammon replaced Prince Buaben in a substitution forced by injury to the Ghanaian midfielder. Two minutes after the restart, Thistle equalised through Sean Welsh and thereafter Sammon became a target.
Cathro explained how the second half evolved and changed the context of a match which Hearts were expected to win. The 1-1 result leaves them fourth in the league heading to Dundee.
“Players changed and the dynamic of the game changed, and we failed to be successful and Partick Thistle made it more difficult,” said Cathro. “It was as simple as that. There was no real complicated reason. The team changed, Partick Thistle changed, we changed. And the outcomes changed.”