Craig Levein puts cup progress high on Hearts agenda

Hearts director of football Craig Levein
Hearts director of football Craig Levein
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Hearts director of football Craig Levein is hoping for strong cup runs next season to atone for successive eliminations by city neighbours Hibs.

The Edinburgh clubs could meet as early as next month if tonight they are drawn in the same group section of the Betfred League Cup, and Levein, inset, wants to see the Tynecastle team improve their recent cup form.

He said that being knocked out of the Scottish Cup twice in a row by their biggest rivals hurt those in charge.

Premiership progress remains Hearts’ priority after finishing fifth in the campaign just ended. Both the League Cup and Scottish Cup are also high on the agenda.

Under Robbie Neilson, Hearts lost to Hibs in a fifth-round replay in 2016 as the Easter Road side went on to lift the trophy. The same fate befell Neilson’s successor, Ian Cathro, in February this year.

Levein admitted the cups represent Hearts’ best chance of silverware.

He said: “It would be nice, of course. Hibs knocking us out of the Scottish Cup in the last two years has been ‘ouch’. You look at Celtic just now and say: ‘Are we going to win the league?’ It is going to be difficult, extremely unlikely. But there are cup competitions which are available. It would be nice to think that we could progress in one of those. But that’s not the be all and end all.”

He added that losing to Hibs was more painful for fans than a simple defeat in a knockout tournament. “Yeah, just because it’s Hibs. I don’t think it was so much because it was the cup, I think it was because we lost to Hibs. I get that completely.”

Hibs’ return to the Premiership guarantees at least three, possibly four, Edinburgh derbies in the league next season. “It’s good for Scottish football and good for us. I have always enjoyed being involved in these games and it will be good to have them back,” said Levein.

• Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton has been restored to the Scotland squad to face England at Hampden next Saturday after Allan McGregor withdrew through injury.

Hamilton was one of five players cut from the original 29-man squad earlier in the week but national coach Gordon Strachan reinstated him in place of McGregor, who has a thumb injury.