HEARTS boss Ian Cathro has hailed Aberdeen as the benchmark every Scottish club bar Celtic is reaching for.

The Dons are aiming to finish second for the third year running having claimed an eight-point lead over Rangers.

It is a battle the Jambos had hoped to join at the start of the season but new boss Cathro admits his team must strive to match the levels of consistency managed by Derek McInnes’ men.

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Hearts sit six points back on Gers in fourth but can boost their Europa League ambitions by gunning down the Dons when they travel to Pittodrie on Saturday.

Cathro said: “All the clubs in this league with the aspiration of pushing and improving themselves have to look at them as the benchmark.

“The work Aberdeen have done under Derek over the last four years, building a very strong, experienced team with good quality individuals, is impressive.

“They get consistent performances, play very organised football. They know exactly what they are doing and it’s brought them success.

“I think everybody underneath Aberdeen in the league will be wanting to do that.”

A comfortable 4-0 win over Hamilton last week eased the pressure on Cathro after he had mustered just three wins from his first 15 games in charge.

But he admits his team will not have it as easy as they did against second bottom Accies when they head north this weekend.

He said: “It’s been a positive week for us. We take good feelings from the Hamilton game, but not too much. That game doesn’t relate too much to the challenge we face.

“It’ll be a very different test at Pittodrie. It’s one of the toughest games of the season but we have a good understanding of how the game will be, so we’re looking to start with plenty of energy and pace.”

Meanwhile, Cathro has issued youngsters Jack Hamilton, Rory Currie and John Souttar new deals which tie them to Gorgie until 2020.

“It’s massively important and a really positive thing,” he said.