Ian Cathro insists he is unfazed about Hearts entering Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie against Hibs with 16 players who have never experienced an Edinburgh derby.
Only five of the Tynecastle first-team squad have faced the Easter Road club before but the head coach remains confident ahead of the fifth-round clash.
Andraz Struna, Tasos Avlonitis, Krystian Nowak, Aaron Hughes, Lennard Sowah, Faycal Rherras, Perry Kitchen, Malaury Martin, Alex Tziolis, Choulay, Esmael Goncalves, Bjorn Johnsen, Rory Currie, Liam Smith, Angus Beith and Viktor Noring have never been involved in a Hearts-Hibs match.
Nine of those were signed just last month and as many as eight of the above could be in Cathro’s starting line-up this weekend.
Only Jack Hamilton, Don Cowie, Jamie Walker, Sam Nicholson and Juwon Oshaniwa have sampled Edinburgh derbies – underlining the drastic change in Hearts’ squad since last year’s meeting between the clubs at the same stage of the same competition.
Hibs prevailed on that occasion after a replay but Cathro is quietly confident there will be no repeat this time despite his vast list of derby debutants.
“It doesn’t concern me. The reason for that is because of who these guys are,” he told the Evening News. “They have experience of high-level football in different places. Some guys are a little bit younger with maybe less experience but they’re in a good place. I’ve got no concern over that side of things.
“Right now, the Scottish Cup is the most important thing because it’s the next game. We want to win the match and progress in the competition. Right now, it’s the most important game of our lives.”
Cathro pointed to the progress made by some of his new arrivals as reasons for optimism. Goncalves scored twice and Tziolis once in last weekend’s 3-0 win at Motherwell. All three goals were set up by the Moroccan winger Choulay, who is on loan at Hearts from Stoke City until the summer.
“I’m pleased Esmael has had the opportunity to put the ball in the goal a couple of times because that’s what his life is about,” said Cathro. “Alex has played 90 minutes, which he hadn’t done for a period of time. That’s a positive. We’ve brought in guys who are ready to fight, ready to work inside the football we want to play.
“Moha [Choulay] has really great qualities and fantastic potential. He is growing and adapting to some of the more British aspects of football. He’s learning and working on some of the defensive aspects. He can become a top player in his life. I think he can be an important option for Hearts and we’re pleased to have him. We’ll try to help him in the period of time he’s here and he will help us.”