Head coach Ian Cathro has welcomed news the pitch at Tynecastle is being re-turfed, describing the six-figure investment as another sign of the support he is receiving at Hearts and also the club’s ambition.
A statement on the Hearts official website yesterday morning from owner Ann Budge reported that a company called SIS (UK) Ltd has been recruited to re-turf the pitch. The work has already started and should be completed by next midweek. “While this will add a few additional management and logistical challenges for many of us based at Tynecastle, we are comfortable that this is the right course of action,” said Budge.
It is planned that the new surface will be ready for next Wednesday’s home league match against Ross County. But Hearts are also hoping a Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against Ayr United is among the first games to grace the new turf, which is being laid at a six-figure cost to the club.
In order for that to be the case, Hearts will need to find a way past Hibernian in their fifth-round Scottish Cup replay at Easter Road tomorrow. In the 0-0 draw between the teams a week past Sunday it became clear something was seriously wrong with the Tynecastle pitch, both teams hampered by the rutted surface to the extent that the game was ruined. Indeed, it is understood referee Willie Collum considered abandoning the match in the second half.
Cathro was a member of the delegation that spent time studying the impact on the turf of another 90 minutes after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Also included were Budge and director of football Craig Levein, who came to the conclusion that the club had to act now if they were to enhance their prospects of European qualification as well as Scottish Cup glory.
“Nobody would choose this situation and it is not ideal,” said Cathro. “But the situation has developed and needs addressed.”
It is hoped the new pitch will last for 18 months before being replaced again, with a hybrid turf being considered. But the initial investment in what is a relatively temporary solution has further convinced Cathro he is in the right place.“It’s another sign of the ambition, the drive and the determination of everybody in the club for us to be as good and as strong as we can and to aspire to be better,” he said. “That’s one of the best things about this football club – the people driving it really want to get better.”
“Everything that is happening at the stadium just now, nothing is coming cheap. It’s an incredible project and come the other end of that we’re going to be playing in a fantastic stadium. There are so many things going on, none of it’s going to be cheap. But we’re fortunate we have a club with leadership and loved by thousands and thousands of people that we can do these things.”
It’s hard to raise the stakes any further with reference to a cup derby, particularly one that needs to be settled on the night.
But there’s a feeling Hearts are going to bound on to the relatively decent pitch with the glee of new-born lambs and then start playing like an incarnation of the Brazil team of 1970.
There has been so much talk, some of it from within the Hearts camp itself, that playing somewhere other than Tynecastle will allow the players to express themselves in a way that they are unable to do on their own patch of rutted turf. Add to this the likelihood that Hibs will be every bit as committed as they were in the first game – perhaps more so given manager Neil Lennon’s remarkably critical outburst after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Raith Rovers.
It all means Hearts, already supposed favourites due to their top-tier status, could be set up for a fall tomorrow evening.
Cathro acknowledged Lennon’s surprise verbal attack on Hibs’ under-performing players but suggested there might have been some game-playing involved. “These are post-match decisions and it is down to Neil to make those decisions,” he said.
But he denied feeling any additional pressure. While he admits the better quality pitch at Easter Road is a “positive” factor, he didn’t believe it was a single most significant one.
“There is not an added pressure, you feel that anyway,” he said. He was encouraged rather than intimidated by the continued financial backing his project is receiving, including on the pitch – literally.
“The support is not a surprise to me,” said Cathro. “I learned that very quickly. That is one of the reasons I wanted to be here because that support and ambition exists.”