I have to admit I thought most of Hearts’ focus would have been on Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic, and I said last week that the team selection at Dunfermline might have reflected that.
However, I was somewhat mistaken, as the manager put out a strong side and got a result which has completely altered the landscape in terms of our league position. The way things have gone at the weekend, with the three teams directly above us in the league – Motherwell, St Johnstone and Dundee United all dropping points – it means that even if we were to lose to Celtic, we’ll now still have something to play for in terms of trying to get at least fourth place. It makes the run-in very interesting.
We were without two important and physical players on Saturday in the shape of Craig Beattie and Andy Webster and I think that showed in the first-half because it certainly wasn’t pretty from a Hearts point of view. But we got a wee reaction at half-time and came out and got a smashing result.
As well as boosting our league position, it means we can go into the game against the newly-crowned champions on a high and in good form. Celtic were absolutely outstanding on Saturday, albeit against a Kilmarnock side who were very poor on the day, so it’s all the more important that Hearts are going into such a difficult game in good shape. The players have to take heart from the fact that they are in form and showing real solidity at the moment. We also have players on their day who are capable of winning matches for us.
One of those is Andrew Driver. The manager has shown great faith in Andrew because he’s certainly taken a bit of time to find his form. But slowly but surely he looks to be coming back, and I’ve got a feeling that, in the wide open spaces of Hampden, the confidence that Paulo Sergio has continued to show in him could bear some fruit. On his day, Andrew is capable of being a match-winner and, without putting him under extra pressure, he is more than capable of producing a match-winning performance against Celtic.
As someone who likes to hug the touchline, he is the type of player you look to unlock a team like Celtic. He is definitely capable of it and next week could be the culmination of a period where he has been gradually building himself back up, both in terms of confidence and fitness.
There are several players in the current Hearts team capable of proving match-winners, but it would be testimony to Andrew’s desire to get back to form and fitness if he was to be the man who could steal the show.
Hearts can also take great heart from the fact Celtic’s record at Hampden under Neil Lennon hasn’t been great. Certainly, their last visit to the National Stadium when they lost the League Cup final to Kilmarnock, won’t fill them with positive memories, although that will be offset somewhat by the fact they have just savoured a championship victory. You always find some players or teams have certain places they enjoy playing at and others they are not so keen on, so we have to hope that Hampden is one place Neil Lennon’s Celtic are not quite as comfortable.
As underdogs, Hearts will also benefit from reduced expectations. Like the manager, I’ve been playing down their chances and expectations because, after the year Hearts have had off the pitch, I didn’t think they would be able to get to a cup semi-final or be in contention for at least a fourth-place finish in the SPL. It’s testimony to the management and the diligence of the players that they’ve put themselves in such a position.
I know it’s a long shot, but I would love it if both Hearts and Hibs can reach the final. It would be a wonderful occasion for the city of Edinburgh.