Hearts head coach Ian Cathro insists the winter shutdown will give him a chance to put his stamp on the team ahead their return to action in the Scottish Cup against Raith Rovers.
The former Newcastle United and Valencia assistant manager has endured a difficult start at Tynecastle after presiding over one victory, three defeats and a draw in his first five matches in charge since replacing Robbie Neilson a month ago.
But when the players return to their Riccarton base from a well-earned break, Cathro is planning to put the squad through an intense training programme that will ensure they know exactly what he expects from them during matches.
The 30-year-old has already made subtle alterations to the team’s playing style but Cathro, whose side return to league action away to Celtic following the cup tie, insists the time he has with the players ahead of the January 22 trip to Stark’s Park will be critical.
He said: “I recognise in the past 18 months here that there has not been a massive opportunity for the guys to have a real rest, particularly the players that were here last season.
“It is important they can have some time away to reflect a little bit, relax with their families and make sure when we come back to work that we’re all in a fresher place.
“The work that we’ll do in the run-up to our game against Raith Rovers in the cup will be really important.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to put some real work in.
“Looking at the day-to-day, everything they’ve given has been excellent. Their work and approach to everything has been fantastic and that will continue to be the case, and we’ll work harder to take steps towards what we want to be able to do here.
“There have been enough small parts of games that keeps feeding me with belief that we can, not tomorrow, get quickly to the point I want the team to be at.”
Cathro inherited a side that were sitting second in the Premiership after Neilson bade farewell following a memorable 2-0 win over Rangers.
Currently in fourth place, Hearts are now eight points adrift of the Ibrox club but Cathro insists they should be sitting in a healthier position after watching his team surrender winning positions in a draw with Partick Thistle and defeat to Dundee.
He added: “The expectation for us to do very well quickly was a reasonable one given the position the team was in.
“There was no need for anything drastic to take place, the team was in a great position following on from beating Rangers and being second in the league.
“Whether that was a true reflection of where the team was at that point or not, we don’t know. But it was an achieved position and they were rightly there.
“It leads on to there being some disappointments in the results we’ve had.
“My feeling on the situation is that we should have five more points than what we currently have.
“We had reached positions in games where it shouldn’t have resulted in a draw or a loss. Ultimately I accept responsibility for that.”