Perry Kitchen knows Hearts’ Euro hopes rely on a Hibs defeat

Perrys bar: Hearts skipper Kitchen could miss European qualifiers if Hearts finish fourth  and Hibs fail to retain cup.  Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Perrys bar: Hearts skipper Kitchen could miss European qualifiers if Hearts finish fourth  and Hibs fail to retain cup. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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Hearts captain Perry Kitchen is very much in the ABH (Anyone But Hibernian) camp when it comes to the winners of the William Hill Scottish Cup.

Indeed, he admits that he will be keeping his fingers crossed that Aberdeen eliminate the holders when they meet in the semi-final at Hampden on Saturday.

However, his reasons for wishing Neil Lennon’s side nothing but ill at the national stadium are based on pragmatism rather than city rivalry.

The soul-less, goal-less draw at Kilmarnock on Friday evening punctured Hearts’ hopes of putting pressure on fourth-placed St Johnstone but Kitchen has not given up hope of overtaking the Perth club.

Fourth place will come with a Europa League slot but only if Hibernian do not retain the trophy.

“If any of the current top three teams win the Scottish Cup, anyone other than Hibs, we have a chance to qualify for Europe in fourth place and that’s something to work for,” said Kitchen.

“Our goal is to catch St Johnstone at least and we have five games left in which to do that.

“It won’t be easy but it is our goal and it’s definitely one that we can achieve.

“We have our two home games first [against Partick Thistle and Aberdeen] so we’ll be looking to take advantage of that before we go on the road for the rest of the season.

“I know we will have to be at our best to take care of those first two and that the last three away fixtures are going to be tough but it is what it is.

“From the position we’re in now, finishing above St Johnstone by the end of the season would be a real achievement.”

Ironically, should Ian Cathro defy the odds and guide his squad into continental competition, Kitchen is likely to be posted missing when the qualifying ties come around.

The holding midfielder is hoping to add to his five appearances for the USA this summer and that could prove to be bad news for his employers.

“There are games in the summer, although the roster [squad] hasn’t been released yet,” he said. “We have our version of the Euros – the Gold Cup – in July so it has the potential to be a busy summer.

“It’s possible I could miss the European ties, if we have any. That would be a conversation with the club if it came about. One step at a time and we still have five big games to play but it wouldn’t be the worst problem to have.

“We can’t really talk about Europe until we’re in that position.”

The Hearts support were unimpressed by their team’s performance at Rugby Park but Kitchen preferred to accentuate the positive.

“We went there intending to get the victory but it didn’t happen for us,” he said.

“We found it tough to find the net but it was positive to get a shut-out.
That’s two in a row now so it’s something to build on.

“Over the past few weeks, positives have been hard to come by so that could be a big point, especially with us trying to chase down the teams in front of us. There has been an adjustment since the new coaching team came in. It takes time to adapt and get into it but, hopefully, we’re on the way up now; that’s four points in our last two games.

“We have the character in the dressing room and in the team to move forward. There may be more change in the summer but we all have to do our best for the team, whatever happens.”

Much has been made of assistant manager Austin McPhee’s habit of handing handwritten notes of instruction to substitutes before they take the field but Kitchen played down the significance of the practice.

“It was just basic tactical things for the guys coming on, making sure they knew their role at set-pieces and things like that,” he explained. “It was nothing groundbreaking – just standard information to make sure we were doing things right.

“That’s been done before and it’s easier to relay information with a piece of paper, rather than shouting so that will be why they do it.

“It’s probably better I get to read it rather than them speaking the instructions to me, because – with the accents – I probably wouldn’t understand it! I’m comfortable with the situation – it’s all about passing on instructions in whatever way the coaches want to do that.”