MANUEL PASCALI expects Hearts to arrive at Rugby Park resembling wounded animals tomorrow, insisting they will be more dangerous opponents than ever before following Wednesday’s defeat to Celtic.
Kilmarnock’s Italian captain is anticipating a strong reaction from the Tynecastle squad after their 4-0 midweek reverse. He admitted containing their aggression will be a sizeable task for the hosts.
“What happened on Wednesday makes Hearts more dangerous for us,” said Pascali. “I’ve been in this position before. They will want to redeem themselves and they will be desperate to bounce back. They have the opportunity to do it against us.
“They will be more dangerous on Saturday, more than any other day of the year. It will be a really tough match for us. Hearts will start really aggressively and they will have some players back after Wednesday night.
“I saw the highlights of the Hearts-Celtic match and I saw Hearts did not get a goal early on. It was a tough call for the referee but Hearts will be a very different side tomorrow. We know some of their players who played with us and we know they can beat anybody.
“The Celtic game was decided in first 30 minutes. Neil Lennon said it was the best Celtic performance during his time there, so I think Hearts will learn from that. They will play at a high tempo and with lots of aggression but we are at home and we must focus on our own performance.
“Our last home game was a 3-0 defeat against Dunfermline so we have to make this up to our own fans. We want a top-six finish so we need three points against Hearts.”
Kenny Shiels, the Kilmarnock manager, was less complimentary towards the Edinburgh club today when he criticised their manager, Paulo Sergio, for following Vladimir Romanov’s orders and freezing goalkeeper Marian Kello out of the team.
“Do I feel sorry for him [Sergio] over the goalie situation? No, I don’t because he has broken his trust with his players,” said Shiels. “If you stick by your principles you develop a trust with your team.
“I would never break my principles. He’s taken the wrong stance on it. He should say, ‘I’m the manager, sack me if I can’t make the decisions’. Unless the chairman has said to him when he’s taken the job that there will be occasions when he’ll pick the team, but I can’t see that. If Michael Johnston tried to do the same with me, that would be it.”
Jamie Hamill, the Hearts defender, expressed sympathy for his manager amid trying circumstances. “It’s a difficult situation for the manager to be in, and for Marian. As players, you have to get on with it and hopefully it can be resolved sooner rather than later,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hearts and St Johnstone have been denied £82,500 each after UEFA refused permission to switch their Scottish Cup fifth-round replay to Thursday, February 16.
Sky Sports wanted to broadcast the match live, which would have meant £165,000 being split between the clubs, but UEFA are unwilling to allow a domestic live game to take place on the same night as Europa League matches.
The replay, at McDiarmid Park, now goes ahead on the scheduled date of Tuesday, February 14.