Callum Paterson: Hearts set up to make it easy for new boss

Callum Paterson slides in to poke the ball past Ross County goalkeeper Scott Fox. Picture: SNS.
Callum Paterson slides in to poke the ball past Ross County goalkeeper Scott Fox. Picture: SNS.
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Callum Paterson, the Hearts defender, is convinced whoever takes up the Gorgie club’s managerial mantle will have the best possible chance of hitting the ground running in a seamless transition.

The young Scotland international, talking in tones that belied any lasting gloom or disappointment over Robbie Neilson’s departure for MK Dons, stressed the successor would inherit a powerful squad and join a smooth-running operation.

Ian Cathro, the Newcastle United assistant head coach, is strong favourite to replace Neilson, possibly as early as this week, joining his friend, Craig Levein, the Hearts director of football, in the well-defined structure under chairwoman Ann Budge.

Hearts remained silent on the process after the dramatic, action-packed draw in Dingwall which left them in third place behind Rangers in the league table.

But Paterson, who netted their second goal in a storming individual performance, summed up the mood of positivity in the camp, belying any thoughts of gloom over Neilson’s decision.

“It’s been a positive week,” the 22-year-old right-back said. “We’re unbeaten in three games and there is a really good, positive feel about the direction we’re heading.

“We came up here to make it nine points out of nine but it wasn’t to be, but it’s a tough place to come. Thankfully, we got something out of it and we kick on again.

“I can’t wait to work with the new manager, whoever it is.

“We’ve shown we’ve got depth and diversity in the squad so he can mix it up and it won’t be that hard a job for him coming in.

“It’s a great environment for anyone to work in and the new manager can hit the ground running.”

Paterson saw his team tumble behind in Dingwall to Jay McEveley’s scrambled opener. Then in a dramatic three-minute turnaround, Arnaud Djoum levelled and Paterson created the lead.

It was breathless stuff, particularly in the last quarter, with a Ross County side on the up again posing the visitors plenty of problems even before Liam Boyce levelled from the penalty spot.

When Jamie Walker won a penalty deep in stoppage time, it looked like Hearts would be jubilant again three days after beating Rangers. But Scott Fox’s brilliant save from Walker’s spot-kick preserved the share of the spoils.

Paterson claimed: “The majority of the game we were on top.

“They went ahead against the run of play but they had the lion’s share of possession and chances in the last ten minutes so maybe a draw is a fair result.

“To go 2-1 up and concede a penalty and then miss a penalty is a bit of a blow, but a draw is better than nothing.”

With Jon Daly and Andy Kirk taking charge of duties in the technical area, Levein relayed messages to his temporary team throughout the game.

Given the chaotic nature of the clash, though, it can’t have been an easy game for the former Scotland manager to influence.

County started positively, with young Tony Dingwall, earning his first start of the season, passing up a great chance early on with a poor header from a Michael Gardyne cross.

The Highlanders were bright in their play, though, and a strong Liam Boyce header was parried under the bar by the excellent goalkeeper Jack Hamilton.

The breakthrough came two minutes before the break. A Chris Routis free-kick sparked chaos as the ball bobbled around the six-yard area and Jay McEveley, scrambling up from the deck, managed to arc a shot up and over Hamilton from six yards.

County picked up the pressure again into the second period, with Gardyne drawing a double save from the alert Hamilton. But the Hearts revival was just around the corner and the game was completely flipped on its head within the space of three minutes.

When Bjorn Johnsen drove determinedly at goal with a low strike from just outside the box, Arnaud Djoum showed great opportunism in diverting the ball with a touch that flummoxed home keeper Fox.

Then, after 67 minutes, County were stunned as Jamie Walker’s cross was smashed gleefully home by Paterson’s right foot six yards out.

County tried to hit back and were thwarted only by a brilliant Hamilton tip over the bar after 74 minutes from another towering Boyce header.

Johnsen could only ripple the side-netting after a mistake by goalkeeper Fox left the goal empty, and Hearts were left to rue that blunder when Faycal Rherras handled in the box as he rose to meet a cross.

Boyce stepped up to send Hamilton diving the wrong way and draw the Dingwall team back level.

Deep in stoppage time, Andrew Davies hauled down Walker in the area, but Fox rose to the challenge superbly with a great save low to his right from the same Hearts player.

Statistics can often be moulded any which way you like. The Dingwall team still have only one win from 13 matches, yet have now forged a four-game unbeaten run in a period of obvious recovery.

The Staggies sit just a point off the top six. Then again, they rest only two points above bottom spot.

But for McEveley, County’s opening goalscorer, the signs are good.

“We felt confident and in control of the game at half-time and then could have scored another couple,” the 31-year-old former Blackburn Rovers and Scotland defender said.

“But that’s been our problem repeatedly, and it was the same last week, in not putting teams to the sword. Then lo and behold they score two and we’re on the back foot.

“But to show the character we did to dig in and come back was nice. I think it’s just a question of us scoring a couple and the floodgates will open and we’ll go on a run.

“It’s coming – we feel it is coming. We’re creating the chances and once it happens someone is in for a three or four-nil from us.”