BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
MICHAEL SMITH insists underperforming Hearts players are responsible for the dismissal of Ian Cathro – and admits they need to make amends to disgruntled Jambos.
Cathro, 31, was axed on Tuesday morning, with the club’s dismal Betfred Cup exit at the hands of Dunfermline proving the last straw for furious fans at Tynecastle.
The former Newcastle and Valencia coach departed with a record of just eight wins in 30 matches, the second-lowest win percentage in Hearts’ history.
However, Smith reckons it was those on the pitch who should have bore the brunt of the anger – and the Northern Ireland internationalist knows the pressure is on them to start the league season in style.
Smith said: “Ian leaving was a big shock to me and the rest of the boys, but it’s a results business and, as players, we haven’t performed for him.
“At the end of the day, when people get sacked, it is the players’ fault. I feel that way. Some people might not feel that, but the players have to take responsibility.
“I knew there would be pressure playing here, but the reaction from the fans on Saturday did shock me and probably some of the other new guys as well, but the club means everything to a lot of people and I understand that.
“They love this club and no matter what goes on, they’re the one thing that remains. The players don’t remain, the managers don’t remain – they’re the one thing that stays put. We now owe it to them to do something this season.
“It needs a change of mentality. We need to progress as a team and progress as a squad because the talent we’ve got in this squad is fantastic.
“Some of the players we have here are international quality, so we need to be performing better on Saturday.”
With Cathro now a footnote in Hearts’ history, the onus has fallen on Jon Daly, assisted by Austin MacPhee and Liam Fox, to steady the ship.
And the amiable Irishman has already sought to lift morale and raise spirits ahead of the toughest curtain-raiser imaginable – a trip to face Celtic.
Smith continued: “When any manager loses his job and the next guy games in, the interim manager needs to put a smile back on the players’ faces and Jon has done that.
“Jon has brought fun, commitment, enthusiasm and work rate.
“It’s been good, intense work, all gearing towards Celtic and the boys are really up for Saturday now.”
Smith, who expressed relief that assistant Austin MacPhee – also his coach at international level – is staying at the club, knows stunning Brendan Rodgers’ Invincibles would completely change the mood at the end of a tumultuous week.
He added: “It’s the toughest fixture of the season, so why not make it the first one? They didn’t lose all last year and had a good result on Wednesday night, but someone’s going to beat them eventually. Why not us?
“The club would get a massive lift from it and the confidence that would come from winning a game like that would be second to none.
“No-one gives us a chance but we know what we have to do. We know it’s not going to be easy, far from it, but we go there with a game plan that Jon and Austin will set out and hopefully maybe catch them on an off day”.