PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Fourth
LAST SEASON: 5th, 46pts
NOTABLE INS: Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town), Rafal Grzelak (Korona Kielce), Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City), Michael Smith (Peterborough United), Cole Stockton (Tranmere Rovers), Connor Randall (Liverpool, loan), Ashley Smith-Brown (Manchester City, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Robbie Buchanan (Cowdenbeath, loan made permanent), Bjorn Johnsen (ADO Den Haag), Billy King (Dundee United), Perry Kitchen (Randers), Sam Nicholson (Minnesota United), Callum Paterson (Cardiff City), Gavin Reilly (St. Mirren), Faycal Rherras (Mechelen), Lennard Sowah (KS Cracovia), Callumn Morrison (Stirling Albion, loan), Ally Roy (Dumbarton, loan), Moha Choulay (Stoke City, end of loan), Paul Gallacher (retired), Tasos Avlonitis, Dylan Bikey, Juwon Oshaniwa, Andraz Struna, Alexandros Tziolis
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Hamilton,
(Note: this was published about 90 minutes before Hearts announced Ian Cathro's dismissal. Bloody typical)
Ian Cathro. It's all about Ian Cathro.
It's a terrible shame. Those of us who want Scottish football dragged into the twenty-first century badly, badly wanted Hearts to succeed under the tutelage of the guy who looks more like a minion from your company's IT department than a football manager. We really hoped he would prove Kris Boyd, Stephen Craigen and all those other prats who demanded 'a real football man' should be in charge at Tynecastle.
But it ain't happening. Hearts have played thirty games under Cathro and won only eight. And three of those were against Raith Rovers, East Fife and Elgin City. The League Cup games have not gone well. Elgin were dispatched only with a last-gasp goal before the Jambos contrived to lose to another League Two side, Peterhead. A dismal home draw against Dunfermline (a loss on penalties if you like, though the hosts' spot-kick takers couldn't have given less f***s judging by the quality of their efforts) led to chants of "you'll be sacked in the morning" from the support.
On paper, this is a good Hearts squad. Most of the dross signed on short-term deals in January have been punted. Kyle Lafferty, whose own family probably wouldn't spit on him if he was on fire, is nevetheless a striker capable of scoring bucketloads of goals in this league; he and Esma Goncalves should be a pairing to fear. The defence, such an achilles heel in the early months of 2017, should now be a relative strength with Christophe Berra (who was starting for Scotland in June, no less) returning to the club and the hugely talented but accident-prone John Souttar back from injury. With new signing Michael Smith on the right and loanee Ashley Smith-Brown on the left, the full-back positions should both be filled by someone competent for the first time since Callum Paterson (now at Cardiff) wrecked his knee.
Even factoring in the disillusionment of Arnaud Djoum and Jamie Walker, both of whom want out, this team should be capable of finishing fourth in the table even if they turned up with a pretty basic set of Four-Four-F***ing-Two tactics and just a little bit of positive attitude.
Which is where Cathro comes in.
It's not at all clear from watching Hearts what he is trying to get them to do. Their tempo is so pedestrian that the players could be mistaken for pensioners ambling to the bus stop whilst knowing they have a few minutes to spare. There is no coherence between the different areas of the side. In every single match they look like strangers. And whilst improvement should theoretically come just from the exit of so many bombscare defenders, confidence is so low that the blunders happen anyway.
And just when the fans had enough reason to fear the start of the season, the redevelopment of Tynecastle means their opening four league games are away from home. The opener is against Celtic, the third against Rangers. And the first home game? Aberdeen.
The first Edinburgh derby is on 24 October. It feels like it would take a minor miracle for Cathro to still be in the dugout by then.
So why do I fancy Hearts to actually finish higher than last season? Well, either Cathro will be punted early, and his halfway-competent replacement will actually get the bare minimum out of the squad, or he will do the footballing equivalent of turning water into wine and they'll shock us all. The former seems rather more likely at this point.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Jack Hamilton, Victor Noring
Defenders: Christophe Berra, Rafal Grzelak, Aaron Hughes, Jordan McGhee, Kristian Nowak, Liam Smith, Michael Smith, Ashley Smith-Brown, John Souttar
Midfielders: Angus Beith, Jamie Brandon, Prince Buaben, Don Cowie, Arnaud Djoum, Malaury Martin, Lewis Moore, Alex Petkov, Connor Randall, Jamie Walker, Dario Zanatta
Forwards: Rory Currie, Esmael Goncalves, Euan Henderson, Kyle Lafferty, Conor Sammon, Cole Stockton
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.