Adam Eckersley intends to “put the boot in” against Celtic in this Sunday’s Scottish Cup fourth-round tie at Tynecastle.
However, for all that the Hearts left-back relishes the physical side of the game, he insists he will not be resorting the type of underhand tactics he felt Rangers used in last Saturday’s top-of-the-Championship encounter. Hearts beat their title rivals 2-0 in a feisty match in which Rangers had Steven Smith sent off for a rash challenge on Callum Paterson, while Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd were also widely criticised for fouls on Kevin McHattie and Brad McKay respectively.
Eckersley felt Rangers crossed the line of what is acceptable with their robust approach.
“We were expecting them to come out and power balls into the box – they’ve got some tall players and that’s one of their strengths. They’re a physical team and we were expecting that,” said the former Manchester United defender. “But some of their feet were a good half a foot up in the air and the studs were up. It’s just wrong. If you want to come out and try and hurt us, I think that’s what they looked like they wanted to do, but we came out 2-0 on top. It shows our strength.”
Eckersley has no problem with any opponent who wants to play in a full-blooded manner – but only if they operate within the rules of the game. “I don’t blame any team that comes to our stadium and puts the boot in,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoy that physical part of the game. I think every team should come and do that, be physical. I think our team is strong enough to deal with that. It wouldn’t surprise me if Celtic came to do the same thing.
“We’ll be ready for it. I’m quite physical myself and that’s part of the game I enjoy. I’ll definitely be putting the boot in on Sunday. Whether they don’t, I will be. I’m talking about me enjoying the physical part, but I like to think my tackles and our tackles are fair tackles.”
With Kevin McHattie injured following the aforementioned challenge by Miller, Eckersley is left as the only fit senior left-back at Hearts. Although the Englishman is now guaranteed a run of games, he would rather still have competition from McHattie. “I feel for Kevin,” he said. “It’s a long, long season and it’s going to be difficult for me now to stay fit.
“He’s out for six weeks, so there’s a bit of pressure on me to keep going. We need the squad and we need two players in every position to be flying. It’s very disappointing for him and it puts a bit of pressure on me. The manager said when I came that he wanted competition for every position and I think that’s a very healthy thing in football. At my last club in Denmark I didn’t really have that – I was playing most games apart from last year when I had a broken ankle. I think that’s an important thing.
“It’s good to have that and it keeps you performing every week in training and in games. It makes you become a better player and it’s something I welcome. I think the club have done well to bring in cover in every position. That’s vital to have a good season because you need to get the depth to get promotion and do well in the cups as well. Everyone has to play their part.”
With the 14 top-ranked teams in the country all facing each other in this weekend’s fourth-round ties, there are guaranteed to be seven high-profile casualties. If Hearts can oust favourites Celtic, the draw will be wide open. “I think it’s a tall ask right now,” Eckersley said of Hearts’ Scottish Cup prospects. “Our priority is promotion and anything on top of that is a bonus.”