AARON Hughes believes Hearts are finally on the verge of coming good under Ian Cathro and can challenge for both a European place and silverware next season.

The Tynecastle club lost 2-1 to Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday after being reduced to 10 men when Prince Buaben was sent off in the first half.

The result, coupled with St. Johnstone’s 1-0 win over Partick Thistle at McDiarmid Park later, ended their chances of finishing fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership and securing the final Europa League qualifying spot.

However, Cathro’s side performed superbly after Buaben’s red card and only a mistake by goalkeeper Viktor Noring prevented them from earning a draw in Govan.

Hearts have been inconsistent since the 30-year-old Scot was appointed manager back in December, but experienced Northern Ireland internationalist Hughes believes that is about to change.

The 37-year-old centre-half feels the capital club can vie for one of the top spots in the league and should also target the Betfred Cup and William Hill Scottish Cup going forward.

Asked what their goals for the 2017/18 campaign should be, he said: “To be competing with all of the big clubs. Celtic are on another level. Realistically, with their budget and the players they can attract, for any team to try and catch them over the period of a whole season is very very difficult, although not impossible.

“But we can challenge for a European spot for sure. A realistic goal must also be for us to bring a bit of silverware to the club as well. We have the brand new stand opening and you must have those ambitions and goals to aim for and we are capable of doing it.

“Sometimes you are trying to build something and it takes a little bit longer than normal to click, sometimes not. That’s maybe how it has been for the last couple of months when things haven’t quite fallen for us.

“When it goes like that it can cast a shadow over things. But that isn’t actually what’s happening. If you take it away from all the bad feeling you see there’s actually a lot of good things happening here. We’ve fallen down on results. Let’s get away for the summer, build on what we’ve done after our break and take it out onto the pitch and start getting some points. Exciting times ahead.

“Third is a realistic target and it should be for a club such as Hearts. The responsibility then comes onto us as well to take the club forward. It’s not solely on the manager, everything isn’t on him.

“We must step up too and understand what we’re playing for and look on it as an exciting thing, not be afraid of it and embrace the challenge, to take a team into Europe or into a final and win silverware.”

Hughes has won over 100 caps for his country and has made over 400 appearances in the Premier League in England for Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Fulham. However, the defender has never won a trophy and he admitted that doing so remained an ambition.

“I’ve never actually won anything in my career for all the games I’ve played and it would be something I would love to do still,” he said. “There’s still a motivation there to do it and to be part of it would be something that would live in for you for the rest of your career, to be part of that little bit of history and to really bring the club forward.

“It would be great to be part of, everyone recognises that and now it’s a case of getting to work and trying to do it.”