When Ian Cathro talks of Hearts controlling fixtures and playing with authority, this is undoubtedly what he means.
His team delivered an imperious, not to mention timely, performance to beat Hamilton 4-0 and leave some Tynecastle regulars even chanting the head coach’s name. What a difference ten days makes.
Ross County won for the first time in Gorgie in Hearts’ previous fixture to complete a five-game winless streak for Cathro. Fans had called for his sacking just 15 games into his managerial career. That was never going to happen, but nonetheless it underlined the discontent amongst the paying public. The manner of the weekend win helped appease some of those raising questions.
The scoreline read 4-0 but it might well have finished double that. Gary Woods, the Hamilton goalkeeper, had an outstanding afternoon to preserve some of his team’s modesty. They were still soundly beaten. Hearts had 14 attempts at goal to Accies’ five, with 12 of those on target.
Esmael Goncalves scored the second, his first strike at Tynecastle since his January transfer from the Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta. He admitted even an 8-0 result wouldn’t have flattered Hearts and acclaimed Woods’ repeated defiance.
“He is a very good keeper. If he was not there, I think the score would be like eight. He had an amazing game and we had to be patient,” said the Portuguese forward, who returned on Saturday following a one-game ban. “It was a good moment to score at home. I was looking for this and it happened so I am very happy. I hope it’s the start of something but we will play game after game. I hope we keep winning and get some consistency.”
Goncalves, Arnaud Djoum, Jamie Walker and Malaury Martin were the goalscorers but Alex Tziolis, Krystian Nowak, Andraz Struna, Don Cowie and Sam Nicholson also deserve a mention for their contributions. Hamilton were fairly meek by comparison, didn’t compete in midfield and defended poorly at set-plays. Indeed, three of the four goals came from free-kicks.
Goncalves revealed how team bonding sessions over the last two weeks have helped foster more togetherness within the Tynecastle squad. He was one of nine new signings in January who are still adapting to life in Scotland. “We are working hard in training and getting all the information the coach wants. I think we saw it on Saturday afternoon,” he added.
“We’ve been going out for lunch together, we stay after training in the afternoon and that’s important to know each other. Most of the players are new players. It was Ian Cathro’s idea but only the players were there with their families. We got to know each other better and I think it helps. I like to speak and laugh and I am good with everybody.
“We have changed life and changed country. I think it can take a while to settle but it’s going well. For the Greek players, it is hot in Greece. It’s a different life from it being so cold. Players definitely player better on the pitch if they are happy away from the pitch. I enjoy Scotland a lot, I like the atmosphere a lot.”
Cathro was determined not to overstate the significance of a comfortable win against the Ladbrokes Premiership’s second bottom club. “I wouldn’t say it was the best we’ve played since I came here. We’ve had other games where we’ve also been dominant, played well and had attacks,” he said.
“Some parts go against us, we don’t manage it and those games go against us – like Ross County and Inverness. We were a bit quicker and stronger on Saturday but not a massive difference. We know we’ve been making progress.”
He praised his players’ composure towards the end of a first half in which Woods had made five critical saves. In stoppage-time, Djoum converted the opening goal to much relief. “There was character, ability and attacks and some good saves in the first half. In the moment we’re in, you could feel stress, anxiety or tension but we didn’t and dealt with it well. We more than deserved the goal before half-time,” said Cathro.
“There was relief, yes. You hope football rewards the work on the pitch. Everybody has continued to work incredibly hard. We’ve suffered so it was important the ball went in the goal.
“When you’ve had a tough period and underperformned, it’s important you focus day-to-day and don’t jump too far ahead. We take a little breath now but no more than that. We have to go day-by-day and make sure we’re strong. The next two games are good opportunities against opponents at the top of the league [Aberdeen and Celtic]. We have to compete and show our quality.”
Martin Canning, the visiting manager, gave a candid assessment of his club’s current predicament at full-time. They have conceded ten goals in their last two fixtures and sit perilously close to the drop, just one point better off than bottom side Inverness.
“Your job is to go and win games and get enough points to stay in the league and, at the minute, performing like that, we won’t,” he said. “That’s not good enough but we’re not bottom of the league at the minute. The teams above us both lost. We’re still three points off of those two.
“On the fixture list at the moment we have had Celtic, Aberdeen, Rangers, Hearts and Rangers again next weekend. That’s five games against the top teams in the league. It was always going to be a difficult spell but our performance levels were not good enough and that is not something I have said a lot this season.
“We can’t afford to miss players like were missing. We had Darian Mackinnon missing , Mikey Devlin, who are so influential in the team, and Alex D’Acol has been a huge miss up the park. I don’t think we have looked the same since he hasn’t played.”
The second Hearts goal saw Woods make his only error of the afternoon. He collected a backpass after Walker fell in a challenge outside the Hamilton box, thinking referee Craig Thomson had blown for a foul on the winger. “Someone whistled from the crowd and Gary’s thought the referee has blown his whistle,” explained Canning.
“Jamie Walker had gone down as he tried to run through, something happened and there was a coming together. Walker has gone down and someone has blown a whistle from the crowd. It ends up costing us a very important second goal.”
Goncalves lashed Cowie’s short pass from the resultant indirect free-kick high into the Accies net in ruthless fashion. That put the game out of the visitors’ sight. The Portugese has scored three times in eight appearances in maroon and will be a key figure if Hearts’ results are to continue on an upward trajectory.