Despite the signing of nine new players this month, including several on short-term contracts, John Robertson is adamant the Hearts project is still on course.
Eyebrows have been raised by the amount of wheeling and dealing at Tynecastle in recent days under Ian Cathro, which seemed to contradict the club’s stated player development philosophy.
But former striker Robertson, now club ambassador, is certain there is method in the new head coach’s activities in the transfer market. Circumstances dictated the need for emergency cover at right-back and centre-back, with Callum Paterson and John Souttar having both sustained season-ending injuries. Departures had also left Hearts looking light in some areas.
Hearts hope the arrival of Esmael Goncalves, who could make his first appearance against Rangers tonight, will solve their problems up front. Two other new signings, Alex Tziolis, a defensive midfielder, and centre-half Tasos Avlonitis, could also both make their debuts in front of Craig Levein, the director of football in charge of player recruitment.
“With the injuries we’ve had and players leaving we had to start the overhaul a little quicker than normal,” said Robertson. “It’s still a long-term view. If Craig had his way, Ian Cathro would have been there from the start, working with the developments and under 20s. So where he is now is not a deviation from the plan.
“He wants to change the style just slightly, and we need a specific type of player to enable us to play that way. We have been working hard on this in this transfer window, especially the permanent signings, because they are the ones who will be the future.”
Tonight’s line-up is expected to be much changed to that which faced Rangers at Tynecastle in a 2-0 win in November. But Robertson believes the extensive overhaul could mean Hearts take Rangers by surprise as they attempt to start clawing back a gap that has opened up between the teams since that deserved victory over Mark Warburton’s side eight weeks ago.
“As much as having a lot of new faces in to face Rangers can be seen as a slight negative, the other side of the coin is what do Rangers know about them? ” said Robertson, below. “Not a lot. One thing is for sure – after 90 minutes tomorrow they will know what Scottish football is all about, because the atmosphere is pumped up. It will also give a flavour of where Hearts and Rangers are. Nearly two months ago we comprehensively beat them at Tynecastle.
“Since then Mark’s team have definitely improved and we have dipped a bit and so it will be interesting to see where both teams are. Rangers have made some good signings too but the atmosphere got on top of them that night. Mark admitted it was one of his most torrid evenings.
“But they have bounced back since then, to go from being behind us to leading us by 11 points. For the guys coming in from the continent, it is football at its rawest level – 17,200 inside Tynecastle, baying for their teams, under the lights. Fantastic.”
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