Several Hearts players, including defender John Souttar, described Sunday’s draw with Raith Rovers as feeling like a defeat given the circumstances. It might therefore be worth the Tynecastle side treating tomorrow’s replay as a bonus match rather than an inconvenience.
Some eyebrows were raised at Ian Cathro’s evident surprise at the teams meeting again so soon after the first tie. But he seemed content enough to go again so soon.
Possibly he was viewing such an unexpected addition to the fixture list as a chance to iron out problems. With clashes to come against Celtic, Rangers and potentially Hibs in the next round of the Scottish Cup, should Hearts avoid further mishap tomorrow, he is alert to the need for his team to start gelling sooner rather than later.
Although sounding utterly despondent over the way the win had been snatched from Hearts by Declan McManus’ late equaliser, Souttar tried to focus on some of the positives from Sunday, including being able to get to know his new defensive colleagues better. He has a further chance tomorrow night. The 20 year-old Souttar was the only player in the back four not making his debut against Raith. Beside him Aaron Hughes, Lennard Sowah and Andraz Struna were all finding their feet at Stark’s Park.
“I thought we played well first half,” said Souttar. “We knew what Raith were going to do and I thought we stood up well to them. But it doesn’t matter now. It feels like a defeat because it was so late. We just need to keep the heads up and get a win on Wednesday.
“I thought it was good,” he added, when asked how it felt to be playing in a new-look back four. “We’ve had nine days together so we’ve got to know each other. There’s a lot of experience in there. The right-back, Andraz, has played a lot of games for Slovenia. Aaron obviously comes with a wealth of experience so it’s good.
“I try to learn from every player. There’s always something you can learn from every player, but he (Hughes) is an exception because he has made it, hasn’t he? He’s played 455 games in the (English) Premier League so it’s good for me to learn from people like that.”
Souttar is the right player to ask about Cathro since they started working together nearly ten years ago at a youth academy in Dundee. But the defender pointed out, reasonably, that what they did at under-11 level isn’t relevant now, as Hearts continue with a testing return to action after the winter break.
“It’s a long time ago,” he said. “It was about ten years ago. We were kids. It’s a lot different coaching under-11s and first team. That doesn’t matter at all. He’s my gaffer and that’s all I see him as. He’s got his ideas and we have to just put them on the pitch and turn them into results.”
Raith Rovers will be seeking to feast on the discord that is likely to grow should Hearts toil to break down the opposition tomorrow.
“We more than dominated for large parts of the second half,” said McManus, who scored the late equaliser on Sunday when turning in Rudi Skacel’s left-foot volley. “If we go and play the exact same way at Tynecastle I’m pretty sure they’ll not like it.
“It’s a big crowd but it’s a tight pitch and if we get in their faces as we did on Sunday then anything can happen.”
Rovers manager Gary Locke has already noted how Tynecastle, renowned for its febrile atmosphere, can sometimes work against the home team. “People say it is a great place to play when everything is going for you but when things are not going for you it can be difficult,” he said. Locke added that he knew this from his own experience, as both a player and manager at the club.
McManus, who along with Skacel is the reason the clubs are meeting again tomorrow, has had to overcome his own confidence issues at Raith after becoming a target for the fans’ frustrations. Without a goal in his previous nine outings for the club, the striker, on loan from Fleetwood Town, was especially satisfied to make such a significant impact after coming on as an 80th-minute substitute.
“It definitely has been a tough period,” he reflected yesterday. “I’ve had a few jeers off my own fans and stuff like that because we’ve not been scoring goals. They seem to think it was all my fault. But listen, that doesn’t bother me. I’m in for it for my team-mates and my manager and my club.
“Fans are more than welcome to have an opinion but that’ll not stop me working hard and trying to get goals as much as I can.”