The bizarre newspaper article about Ian Cathro saying Hearts were as good as Celtic “if you removed the goalposts” made a bit more sense once you read the quotes in context and deciphered Cathro-speak.
Basically, he was saying Hearts matched Celtic all over the park in the first half of Sunday’s clash, but the difference between the sides was the champions’ ability to call on someone with the quality of Scott Sinclair who ruthlessly punished defensive lapses in a manner that Hearts couldn’t.
If Cathro believed this, then the very next opportunity to test out the theory would have been the following game, Wednesday night’s trip to St Johnstone. It’s a tough match, no doubt about it, but with Saints putting together a makeshift back-line without captain Steven Anderson and right-back Richard Foster, not to mention chief playmaker Danny Swanson, this was the perfect time to get at the hosts.
Instead, the Hearts squad seemingly went to Perth with one instruction: do not lose. The high pressing, the quick tempo, the attacking football; everything that was apparent in the opening half against Celtic was completely absent in this match.
The visitors’ 3-4-3 system looked attacking on paper. In practice it was anything but. Despite having Esmael Goncalves, Jamie Walker and Bjorn Johnsen all in attack - with Walker through the central for some reason - the visitors spent just about the entire game trying to defend.
You can see the logic. After conceding five at home it was imperative that Hearts didn’t continue to leak goals with alarming regularity, but a 0-0 draw with St Johnstone was hardly going to appease the increasingly disgruntled fanbase. In the end, they didn’t even get that. The positioning of Alexandros Tziolis as a auxiliary centre-back helped break up play between Steven MacLean and Graham Cummins, but the hosts always carried a threat from cross balls and they eventually got their winner 17 minutes from time.
Seeing as this team has routinely been accused of lacking heart, it’s an odd choice to ask them to defend for their lives against the team directly above them in the league table.
It now seems like Cathro is experimenting for the sake of it. Nothing is working and he’s falling into the type of vicious circle which befalls a lot of struggling managers. When the team isn’t winning you have to change the system and/or personnel. However, the more you change the more disjointed the team becomes and things begin to spiral.
The support, on the other hand, can barely feel any lower. Over 1,000 Hearts fans made the trip, but they barely made a sound. That’s not a criticism. The fact the away attendance made it into four-figures on a midweek night in this massively disappointing season, especially given recent results, is a near miracle.
They weren’t given any reason to sing or chant or feel any sort of hope. They’ve officially given up on this team and they’ve given up on this season. The summer can’t come soon enough.