Ryan Stevenson is ready to be Hearts’ big-game talisman in tomorrow’s League Cup semi-final if manager Gary Locke restores him to the team.
The 29-year-old is available after serving a two-match suspension but is not guaranteed to play since the Tynecastle side won both fixtures without him.
New signing Paul McCallum trained at Riccarton for the first time yesterday after completing a six-month loan from West Ham United. He is expected to be among the substitutes against Inverness at Easter Road tomorrow but Stevenson is pursuing a starting place.
Having scored the winning goal against Hibs in the quarter-final, and struck twice in last season’s final, Stevenson is confident of thriving on the big occasion. He is eager to convince Locke to play him from the start.
Hearts beat both Ross County and St Mirren 2-1 while Stevenson was serving his ban, with Callum Paterson and Dale Carrick impressing up front in those matches. The final decision on who plays in attack will be made ahead of kick-off tomorrow.
“The team are flying without me,” admitted Stevenson. “Seriously, they’ve done brilliantly and the last two results have been excellent. Hopefully it will be more of the same tomorrow. We want to take the confidence from the last two games into the semi-final.
“I’ve shown I can perform in big games. Everyone wants to play in this type of match and I’m no different. We’ll have a lot of fans there and it should be a great atmosphere. The final last year was disappointing, even though I scored two goals, and it took me a while to get over it.
“If I could get back to another final – especially in this cup because we haven’t won it for so long – it would be a great thing for the fans. We want to lift the cup for them. The game is maybe a bit tougher to call now than it would have been a month ago. But, on our day, we’re good enough to compete with anyone. In a semi-final it’s all about who turns up on the day and doesn’t let the occasion get to them. A lot of the boys were involved in the final last year so they know what they’re doing. Inverness are a good team and we’re going into it with a lot of belief.”
Stevenson stressed that Hearts’ lack of experience does not hand Inverness any major advantage. “Some of these kids will relish it. I don’t think it fazes them at all, they’ve never been involved in it so the likes of young Sam Nicholson will just bounce into it,” he continued. “They don’t have a fear factor and hopefully that will lead to a positive result. They don’t even realise how big it is or how big it would be to reach the final. To be honest, neither did I until I actually got to Hampden last year.
“That was my first major final and you don’t take it in until you’re there. I’ll try and pass on my experience of how good and how big a day it is. Going so close last year, it would be great to go one better and win it.”