Ian Cathro declared Hearts ready for competitive action after they completed their four-game series of pre-season friendlies with an encouraging display in last night’s 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle United.
In a match played in front of just three functioning stands as work continues apace on the development of the new main stand at Tynecastle, a first-half double was enough to give the impressive English Premier League side victory, with the lively Jamie Walker hitting back for the hosts.
Despite the result, Cathro saw enough against his old side to be optimistic about the state of his team as they prepare for their first competitive match of the season away to Elgin City in the Betfred Cup on Tuesday night.
“It was a really positive night for us,” said the head coach. “We needed the stress of playing against a team that’s at a higher level. Everybody needed to be up against players that have the quality that can hurt you. It just sharpens up a number of things in the team. It was really positive, exactly what we needed before we go to competition and we move on to Tuesday night. I was encouraged by the way we competed against a good side, and our plan is also to become a good side. We’re in the middle of the work to try and get us there and I saw a lot of positive moments within the game.”
Last night’s defeat came after victories over Livingston and Linfield, and a defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic, in friendlies over the course of the previous fortnight. Cathro has detected improvement in each match. “I’ve been really pleased with the make-up of the games and the programme for getting ourselves ready,” he said. “It was always going to be difficult because there’s a short period of time to prepare so we needed to pick the right fixtures. I think we’ve had it planned well and the games have given us what we needed at the different stages.
“We’re certainly more ready now for competition than what we were before the game.”
Walker, whose future has been the subject of speculation in recent months, produced an excellent display, and Cathro believes he can be a key man for Hearts in the upcoming campaign.
“Jamie did his talking on the pitch and that’s what every player has to do,” said the head coach.
“He’s a very strong character in his own mind. He’s a real talent and he’s someone I want to support.
“He can make real progress. Right now he’s part of a team that’s progressing and growing and we look forward to having his qualities in our team.”
Kyle Lafferty was the only one of Hearts’ six summer signings who didn’t feature last night as he remained an unused substitute due to a minor fitness issue, but Cathro is confident the Northern Ireland striker will be fit to feature on Tuesday. “Kyle’s okay,” he said. “He’s one of a couple of guys with some small discomfort. Pre-season is about making sure everybody’s fit and healthy and they get through it so it was really just a precautionary thing. We didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. He should be ready for Tuesday. He’s fine.”
Tynecastle had a surreal feel last night, with the main stand resembling a building site and the players emerging from a temporary tunnel in the Wheatfield Stand. “If anybody was unsure, we now know that things are changing and things are growing,” Cathro said of the unusual scene. “We have a strange situation with the four consecutive away games [in the league] but we can’t feel the stress of that – we need to be excited by it. We need to be up for the challenge and get through it so that we can come back here and fill this place. That hunger is in all of us.”