Of all the players hampered by Hearts’ now well-documented pitch problems, Alexandros Tziolos has perhaps greatest reason to be upset. A 62-time capped Greek internationalist, he had every right to expect a lush welcome mat to be rolled out of for him.
Instead, settling in has been made trickier due to the poor excuse of a pitch on which he is being asked to bring composure to a Hearts team in transition. The stop-start nature of the Ian Cathro revolution was underlined in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Inverness.
But if Hearts are to reach the heights under the new head coach, pictured, a lot will hinge on holding on to Tziolos. Their pitch troubles could not have come at a worse time with regards to this. Tziolos, who has signed until the end of the season initially, will soon have to start weighing up his options in terms of his next move.
He might not have expected seeking assurances about the grass quality forming part of his thought process as he ponders whether to stay at Hearts or not. But there was a trace of exasperation in his voice as he sat and reflected on two dropped points against Inverness while contemplating the significant match to come in midweek.
“Our pitch is difficult to play on,” he said. “We have good players who can play good football. We didn’t do that in our last two games at home because it is not easy. I don’t know if you can see it on television, but the pitch is really bad. The pitch will be better on Wednesday [against Hibernian] so it helps us.
“Everybody at the club knows this. Everybody hopes that it can be better but it is difficult to play football. We have to live with this. We have to stop these excuses. We have to find a way to play better and at least take a result because the pitch will be like this. It cannot change.”
According to some reports, Hearts are investigating whether they can do something about the pitch before the end of the season. But, with just four home matches left before the split, it seems more likely they will endure things as they are until May, when the pitch is due to be ripped up.
“In my experience, these things are not so easy in one day or one week,” said Tziolos. “A pitch is difficult to change so I think summer will be the solution for next year.”
The rutted turf could be a metaphor for Hearts’ season – and indeed this match. Okay in parts, but only parts.
The focus now switches to the fifth-round Scottish Cup replay at Easter Road in two days’ time. Normally, a trip to their neighbours’ ground might generate a degree of trepidation. While there is clearly concern at the prospect of a loss and its impact on the rest of the season, there’s relish at the thought of playing on a park that won’t hinder Hearts’ intentions to quite the same extent as their own pitch is doing.
It’s possible to wonder whether Cathro’s decision to name Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker, ball-playing game changers both, on the bench had something to do with the pitch.
He might argue he wanted to hand Moha Choulay an opportunity and, while he was promising, the spectacle definitely suffered for Walker’s only belated introduction, while Nicholson was not seen at all.
Walker’s afternoon soured when he saw a second-half penalty saved by Owain Fon Williams. However, Hearts were boosted by his presence from the 50th-minute mark onwards, scoring an equaliser from Arnaud Djoum 14 minutes later. Inverness had edged in front after Carl Tremarco took advantage of non-existent marking to head home Greg Tansey’s free-kick after 24 minutes. But the home side struggled for inspiration to find a winner and could even have slipped to defeat during some rocky moments at the back. A Ross Draper header hit the post and was cleared.
A sharp burst of booing filled the stadium at the final whistle but Tziolis knows all will be forgiven by overcoming Hibs on Wednesday. I understood this from the first day I came here,” he said. “I hope on Wednesday we give our fans happiness.
“What do the fans say to me? That it is the most important game of the year. I understand how important the game is. It’s like derbies everywhere. The fans think only about this game. It is the game of the year.”