Ian Cathro has praised midfielder Alex Tziolis’s role in giving Hearts extra solidity in recent matches.
After a difficult period in which he was criticised in some quarters for a perceived lackadaisical approach, the Greek internationalist appears to have raised his intensity levels in the last three matches against St Johnstone, Dundee and Kilmarnock.
Tziolis, who has been dropping back to help the defence at various points in those fixtures, has been one of Hearts’ most impressive players as they have recorded back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in Cathro’s reign as head coach. The 32-year-old even played as an out-and-out centre-back for a period in Friday’s 0-0 draw at Kilmarnock and was an assured presence.
Cathro is heartened by the former Panathinaikos, Monaco and PAOK player’s growing influence as he bids to rediscover the level of form that helped him win over the Hearts supporters in his first couple of appearances for the club in February.
“Alex has not got too much history of playing centre-back, especially not in a two,” said the head coach. “But as a defensive midfielder, he’s comfortable in that area of the pitch and is used to defending a lot of situations when he has to. He’s given us presence and has helped lead and direct in defensive situations. He can be an important player for us.”
Cathro was also pleased by the contribution of Moha Choulay on Friday. The 21-year-old Moroccan winger has been a peripheral figure since arriving on loan from Stoke City in January. However, he gave Hearts some much-needed attacking spark when he came on for the last 20 minutes at Rugby Park.
“Moha’s a young player so he’s at a stage of his career where he has ups and downs,” said Cathro. “He’s not been in British football for a long time so he’s adapting to a lot of things. He has good qualities and he gave us some of those qualities on Friday. He gave us some speed on the side and gave us the one-v-one play that we needed. We needed to push our attacks a little bit quicker, so his impact was a positive.”
Meanwhile, Cathro is hopeful that defenders Aaron Hughes and Lennard Sowah will both be fit to return for Hearts in their first post-split fixture at home to Partick Thistle on Saturday week. “Aaron will hopefully be back training in a week’s time, so we’re hoping he can be available for Partick,” said the head coach. “Lennard still has some small complaints but he should be fine.”
Prince Buaben, who was forced off with a tight groin on Friday, was due to be assessed this morning.