Accusing Sam Nicholson of acting foolishly when he was sent off midweek, the Hearts boss says the biggest issue he has with the winger’s antics is the fact it placed even more pressure on the club at a time when many people are already willing it to fail.
A second-half substitute, Nicholson was red-carded following a spitting incident as Hearts lost 1-0 to St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, and while the club had initially said they would consider appealing the dismissal, a review of the footage persuaded them to accept the two-match ban. It means they will be without the 22-year-old for this afternoon’s game against Dundee and Friday evening’s fixture at Rugby Park.
“Sam has recognised the mistake he made,” said Cathro. “He has apologised to me, he has apologised to his team-mates. He is guilty of a stupid action, stupid behaviour through frustration, which affected the team. So that is completely unacceptable to me. He recognises that.
“We had a situation where [the assistant referee] has given a foul throw against him. Sam is jogging backwards, looking at him in frustration. There is not any dialogue between them but he has spat in his direction. It was a gesture of frustration and anger, which was foolish, stupid and hurt the team. When a player starts to hurt the team, that’s completely unacceptable. He has apologised for that.”
Unhappy, Cathro said that the matter would now be dealt with internally but he insisted that while Nicholson’s behaviour was unacceptable, he said the response should be proportional. “I will add that Sam is a young player who, of course, has growing up to do. He is a good young Scottish talent with good energy and a lot ahead of him. It would be completely wrong to paint him as someone who has that sort of darkness that we associate with spitting. There wasn’t a direct attempt to spit on someone. It was a stupid gesture through frustration in a moment of the game where he had lost himself.”
That frustration is a by-product of a drop down the league, from second place in November to their current fifth-placed spot, five points behind St Johnstone. That leaves them outwith any of the European qualifying positions, just three points ahead of Partick Thistle and short on confidence.
Cathro is adamant that fortunes can still be turned around, even if that is not what some people want.
“I think it has probably been the situation for the last little while that there might be more people than normal keen for this club to lose, I think so,” he added.”
Given the fact he does not conform to the expected norms when it comes to managerial appointments in Scotland, the young coach has been a man under intense scrutiny since the day he arrived, with many critics suggesting it was a flawed appointment. But he said that anyone who mistakes the paucity of positive returns on the pitch for an absence of unity when it comes to the management staff and the Tynecastle hierarchy, underestimates the Gorgie club.
“Anybody choosing to do that has probably picked the wrong people and wrong club to go at,” he stated. “We’re very strong together and very focused on doing what we do. To try to rock a club like this, which has had darker days and been saved by incredibly passionate, loyal and powerful fans, it is unlikely for that to succeed.
“For that being the case, I’m quite happy to accept that and say, ‘come on’. If there are more people than normal want to see us lose, ‘come on’, we’ll fight through that.”
That siege mentality can serve a purpose, according to Cathro, who is working desperately to find a solution to the on-field woes and rebuild shattered confidence within the squad. He also wants to restore a feelgood factor to the stands. “We need to use that to add strength and it will,” he said.
“To also be clear, we’re on a run of results which is unacceptable to this club and the criticism and the frustration of the fans is something we understand and I accept. That’s the bit that’s real, it hurts. What I say to them is that we understand that we’re incredibly privileged to be at a club which has this level of support and it’s up to us to make sure we move forward as quickly as possible. We can only do that through results and it has to be on a game-by-game basis.
“If we have a run of results and we win and win and win then it forces certain opinions to become a little bit quieter and allows other opinions to be louder.”