Hearts captain Perry Kitchen believes incoming head coach Ian Cathro will inherit dream job within a smooth-running club and a group of players hungry to succeed.
Crawford for leaving Hearts as a healthy, stable, top-end Scottish Premiership club.
Cathro is due to be appointed this week and, barring any unexpected late hitches, will take charge of Hearts for the first time against Rangers at Ibrox this weekend. The 30-year-old Dundonian is currently one of Rafa Benitez’s assistants at Newcastle United but has already held detailed talks with Tynecastle officials. He is expected to appoint Austin MacPhee, presently assistant coach with Northern Ireland, as his assistant.
Whilst disappointed at the departures of Neilson and Crawford to MK Dons, Kitchen is aware he must rally the troops as skipper. Cathro’s arrival will be welcomed despite his youth and the midfielder explained that he is walking into a near-perfect situation. The need for change should be minimal. “It’s obviously a big job, Hearts is a big club,” Kitchen told the Evening News.
“It’s a bit of a strange one because it’s not as if the previous coaches were fired. All they’ve done is move on. The new coach just has to come in and continue what we’ve been building here. I don’t think there has to be major changes but obviously that will be up to the new guy in charge. We’ll take it as it comes.
“It’s a great situation to come into. The people who come in have a chance to continue what Robbie and Stevie left us with. Coaches come in and put their own stamp on things, do things their way, so we go with it. We have a good dressing room so the guys will adapt quickly if they have to.”
Neilson and Crawford left Hearts second in the Ladbrokes Premiership last week after a 2-0 win over Rangers in their last game in charge. The Edinburgh club slipped to third with a 2-2 draw at Ross County on Saturday.
Kitchen was appointed captain by Neilson as recently as September, having arrived in Scotland from the MLS club DC United in February. He admitted to a pang of disappointment at Neilson’s decision to head to England.
“It’s tough. I’d prefer not to see him go. He’s put a lot of faith in me and I’m very thankful for that. In saying that, I have to understand that this is a business. If he feels that is the best move for his career, I have to respect that and wish him well. I’ll miss him personally and I know all the players will as well.”
Hearts have emerged in good health following a demanding week. A 3-0 home win against Motherwell preceded the victory over Rangers, then came the journey to Dingwall for an exhausting and dramatic 2-2 draw.
Add in the upheaval of a departing management team and the uncertainty that inevitably comes with such change, and it is understandable that Kitchen feel satisfied with seven points from nine.
“If you said at the beginning of the week that we would get seven points out of the three games, we’d probably have taken it. Throw in the coaches leaving and it’s a bit more difficult so I’d say it’s been a decent week for us,” he commented, adding that the players back the club management to make the right choice when it comes to the new coach.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. We came off the high against Rangers, then found out Stevie and Robbie were leaving. It wasn’t easy. They’re a big part of the success we’ve had and we’ll miss them. In saying that, it’s up to us to show character and move forward as a team. We have faith in the front office to find a coach who is up to the standard of Robbie and Stevie.”
One thing the new incumbents can rely on is the character within the dressing room. Hearts have made a habit of overhauling deficits in recent games.
On Saturday, Kitchen and his colleagues recovered from 1-0 down to lead 2-1. They were pegged back to 2-2 but could still have won if Jamie Walker had converted a stoppage-time penalty.
“We showed character to get ahead on Saturday after being 1-0 down.
“We had a chance to win it at the end in the final minutes but it wasn’t to be. We’re a bit disappointed not to score the penalty but that’s part of the game. Jamie has saved us a ton of times so we take it and we move forward.
“We were completely focused on the matches against Rangers and Ross County so nothing changed there. Once Robbie and Stevie addressed us on Thursday, it was kind of expected because the media were covering it in depth. They went about it the right way and it was all handled very professionally. It was probably as smooth a transition as it could’ve been.
“It’s been a tough week with a lot of miles on the legs. We’re a bit disappointed not to have nine points out of nine but we’re kicking on. We’re going to show good character.”