CRAIG FOWLER looks at five matches in Ian Cathro’s Hearts tenure that showed up his tactical failings and contributed to his demise.
Partick (h): December 17, 2016
Ian Cathro’s first home game was seen a hugely winnable match and springboard to kick on under the new head coach against the Jags.
They were still a force at Tynecastle and Partick Thistle had yet to go on the sustained period of form which would eventually propel them into the top six. A home win looked on the cards and that’s exactly how things played out in the first half as Hearts controlled the game and went into the dressing room 1-0 up. Then Cathro decided to change things about.
Conor Sammon was brought on in place of Prince Buaben and, a short time later, the team switched to a 4-4-2. The results were disastrous. Thistle, having equalised right after the restart, easily bettered the hosts for the remainder of the game. Only a number of excellent stops from goalkeeper Jack Hamilton stopped them losing the match.
Hibs (a): February 22, 2017
If you were to pick one match to define the Ian Cathro era, it would surely be this one. Hearts went to Easter Road for a Scottish Cup fourth round replay and were thoroughly dominated by the hosts.
Tactically, the visitors were a complete mess. Cathro lined up the side in a 4-4-1-1 formation without any natural width in the midfield, which resulted in the team being too narrow and unable to perform their duties without almost literally tripping over one another.
It also left the full-backs isolated, with Lennard Sowah enduring an especially torrid time. Hibs scored three but it could have been more, as Hearts meekly exited the competition to their greatest rivals for the second year in succession.
Partick (a): February 25, 2017
Cathro stated his desire to repay the supporters in the wake of the Easter Road debacle, but things only went from bad to worse at Firhill.
Injury to Aaron Hughes necessitated a shuffling of the pack in defence, so Faycal Rherras came back into the side following his stint away with Morocco at the African Cup of Nations. The left-back slotted into his natural role, while Lennard Sowah took up residence at centre-back. It was an odd move, particularly as natural centre-half Krystian Nowak was playing in midfield, and so it proved. Sowah was at fault for both Hearts goals in a 2-0 defeat.
St JOHNSTONE (a): April 5, 2017
This match immediately followed a heavy 5-0 home defeat by Celtic and highlighted Cathro’s resistance to selecting the same system for two games running.
Cathro had adopted a high-press, attacking 4-4-2 outlook of the Celtic match that was always the football equivalent of playing with fire even if they did dominate the first 25 minutes, but why not retain the tactic for a fixture Hearts had more chance of winning? Though St Johnstone are no mugs, they were without two of their starting back-four.
It would have been perfectly reasonable for Cathro to set the team up as he did against Celtic, tweak it in a couple of areas, and try to get some continuity going. Instead, Hearts played with a defensive-minded 3-4-3 formation which ended up being a 5-2-3 in practice.
His use of the front three was most bizarre. Of the three forwards, natural strikers Esmael Goncalves and Bjorn Johnsen started on the wings, while winger Jamie Walker was positioned in the No.9 role. Hearts were completely outplayed and fortunate to only lose 1-0.
Dunfermline (h): July 29, 2017
The young head coach arrived at Hearts promising a passing gameplan which would look to control matches by keeping possession in the opposition’s half. His last match, this past weekend against Dunfermline, illustrated his inability to live up to those aims.
Against Championship opposition, at home, Hearts aimed long balls in the direction of Esmael Goncalves and Kyle Lafferty. It didn’t have the desired effect, as they drew 2-2 to exit the League Cup, and confirmed what many had already expected: things hadn’t improved in nine months and they were never going to.