RYAN MCGOWAN will fulfil a long-held ambition when he runs out of the tunnel at Anfield tomorrow night.
But the big Aussie insisted that, far from being overawed, it will be business as usual when Hearts take on Liverpool at their famous home ground in the second leg of their Europa League play-off. The Hearts full-back has seen The Kop bounce hundreds of times on television and he has always wanted to experience playing in front of it for himself.
He is likely to do just that tonight when John McGlynn names his line-up for the crucial European tie, and the match will be a massive occasion for the young Tynecastle squad as a whole.
But, while he admits that the game will be a real experience, he stressed that getting a positive result will be foremost in the Hearts players’ minds following their battling 1-0 loss in the first leg at Tynecastle last week. He said: “There will be a big crowd, a good atmosphere and everyone knows about The Kop.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it will be a great experience.
“As a football player you want to be involved in games like this and play at grounds with that kind of history.
“I’ve never been to Anfield before but I am like everyone else. I’ve seen it hundreds of times on Match of the Day on a Saturday night.
“To get down there and be on the other side, be in the changing rooms and out on the pitch will be a great occasion.
“But the main thing is the game. We know that we need to get an early goal, so as soon as the game starts all of that will be forgotten and we will get on with the job in hand. I do think we are still in the tie and an early goal at Anfield would really spice things up a little bit.”
Hearts surprised their critics last week when they more than held their own against Brendan Rogers’ men.
Having lost 5-0 to Tottenham in Europe on aggregate last season, many expected a repeat of that kind of heavy defeat against their Premiership opposition again this time around.
Admittedly the Liverpool manager chose to field a weakened team, leaving Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel at home. However it looked as though Hearts would earn a creditable draw until a late own goal from Andy Webster put them on the back foot.
McGowan was proud of the performance the Jambos produced and insisted that the Liverpool side had still been packed with real quality despite their big-name absentees.
He continued: “I think that we proved a few people wrong last week with the performance that we put in.
“All of us were really disappointed that we didn’t get at least a draw out of the game and I think that says it all, really.
“I guess we were a bit disappointed that they left a few players out, but, at the end of the day, you can only play against the guys they put up.
“But you can’t say that the boys they did use weren’t quality players. Jordan Henderson cost them £20 million, Joe Allen came on and he has just signed for them for £15m – that amount of money could buy and sell our team.
“Jamie Carragher has played over 700 games for Liverpool; Charlie Adam, as well, he has done well since he went down to England. At the end of the day their side was full of players with Premier League experience and they were still a good side.
“It wasn’t as if they sent up a youth team, so we can still take a lot of positives from it.”
While there were almost 16,000 at Tynecastle, there will be a much smaller travelling support at Anfield, but McGowan hopes they are as vociferous as the fans who turned out in Gorgie to roar their side through the first leg.
The Hearts crowd sang and chanted from the first minute to the last and McGowan reckons that if the away support can do the same again it can spur the players to another creditable performance.
He recalled: “The atmosphere was unbelievable. The fans really did us proud. Even after Liverpool scored, they were still singing and getting right behind us.
“It really does give the players a massive lift when the fans come out like that and give us their backing. They definitely made us play better.
“I know there will be less of them at Anfield, but I hope that they give us the same kind of support. I’m sure they will.”
McGowan was back in his more familiar right-back role against Liverpool last week, having been moved into midfield at the start of the new SPL campaign.
He spent much of last season at full-back and that is the player’s favoured position.
During pre-season and in the early games in this campaign, manager John McGlynn chose to switch things around and use youngster Callum Paterson in defence.
While the 17-year-old did well in that role, McGowan admits that he is hoping to retain the right-back slot for himself.
He added: “That is probably where I am most comfortable and where I played the majority of my games last season.
“At the end of the day though, I am just glad that the manager is selecting me and that I am out on the field playing football every week.”
The Aussie has been impressed by Paterson since his emergence into the first-team squad at Tynecastle.
Hearts will have to rely more heavily on youth in coming seasons and McGowan reckons that there is another good batch of rising stars to join Paterson in the fight for a first-team place.
“Callum has done really well since he has come into the team. He is still only 17 although, when you look at him, his build and the way he plays, you wouldn’t think that he was that young.
“He is a good player, he has got a lot of good attributes. He is strong, fast, good in the air.
“He is also good with the ball at his feet and I am sure that he will handle the occasion at Anfield well.
“He was unfortunate not to score against them last week so I am sure he will want a similar performance again this time around.
“We have got a lot of good young players coming through so it will be exciting to see them all fighting for a place in the team.”