Hearts' embarrassing 2-1 defeat at Peterhead last night has given Dunfermline an unexpected opportunity to win Group B of this season's Betfred Cup by securing a draw when we travel to Tynecastle on Saturday. Had Hearts beaten Peterhead, the Pars would have needed either a win (something not achieved at Tynecastle since 1990) or a draw plus a bonus point for winning a penalty shoot-out. Now a draw would be enough, regardless of penalty kicks.
The Premiership side's loss to League 2 Peterhead, who had lost 5-1 at East End Park in their previous Betfred game, increases pressure on Hearts "boss" Ian Cathro. I use inverted commas deliberately when describing Cathro as boss - his position has always been under scrutiny, working under Hearts owner Ann Budge and Director of Football, and ex-Hearts and Scotland manager Craig Levein. Cathro was publically humiliated last season during a game at Pittodrie when Levein, sitting in the stand, was having notes passed to the young manager during the game. The perception of 30 year old Cathro is that of a man-child who is a fish out of water, someone with no previous management experience and who is more skilled in preparing a laptop presentation than in actually putting a team out on the park that wins games.
Hearts' experiment in catapulting a novice coach into a management role has, so far, not succeeded. Seen as Levein's puppet, Cathro took over a Hearts side in early December 2016 that was second in the Premiership at the time manager Robbie Neilson left to take over MK Dons. The subsequent months of the season saw Hearts fall to fifth place in the division, and a massive 30 points behind runners-up Aberdeen. They were also by-passed by Rangers (21 points ahead of Hearts) and St Johnstone (12 points ahead). Cathro's League record read: played 22, won 5, drawn 4, lost 13. Significantly, they also went out of the Scottish Cup to rivals Hibs.
Some of Scottish football's more traditionalist pundits, players and ex-players were sceptical about the Cathro appointment back in December last year. Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd, who completed a Pro-Licence coaching course alongside Cathro, said in his newspaper column, before Cathro's first game as Hearts manager:
"He’s one of the up-and-coming, modern-era coaches who can organise a session just by flicking open his laptop. There isn’t a session out there he couldn’t get on to his Macbook. But setting up a presentation to a group of players is all well and good. That does not require man management skills, which is part of the game he knows absolutely nothing about. Time will tell if I’m wrong on that. But if I was a Jambo I’d be worried.
"For me the practical stuff involved in coaching is easy — it’s dealing with highly-charged players that’s the hard part. And for me Cathro is way, way out of his depth.
"I don't see a confident, charismatic top level coach when I look at him. I just think of the shy lad who hardly spoke to anyone when we were on the same coaching course."
Hearts' fans online reactions since the final whistle blew last night have, not surprisingly, been highly critical of their manager. Comments include:
"We can build a new stand but we will be lucky to fill it with this idiot in charge."
"Playing for nearly 10 minutes with 10 men while somebody's scone is being stitched is plain stupid. Getting the shirt numbers of the subs in the team lines wrong is plain embarrassing."
"The only positive I can glean from it is that it just might accelerate Cathro's departure. I still think we're stuck with him until October while we're sitting in the bottom two or three teams. Please don't confuse this with a meltdown, I really don't have an issue with the players, it's just the manager really is out of his depth and clueless. Your experiment has failed Levein - admit it and get it sorted."
Of course, Hearts will still be favourites going into Saturday's game. However, Dunfermline will not have a better chance to achieve at least the draw that is needed to win the group. It is high time the Tynecastle hoodoo was broken.