“I won’t be going into any 50-50 tackles that I know I’m not going to make, that’s for sure.” Scott Robinson has waited a year for redemption for a red card in last year’s League Cup semi-final.
The chance finally arrives on Sunday. Same venue, same opposition, same stage of the same competition.
The Hearts midfielder, nicknamed Pum, has learned a harsh lesson in the intervening 12 months. A two-footed tackle on Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Owain Tudur-Jones saw Robinson ordered off 14 minutes from the end of normal time in last year’s semi-final. His team-mates rallied to win on penalties before losing the final 3-2 to St Mirren – with Robinson by then sidelined through injury.
Fate has paired Hearts and Inverness together again at Easter Road in this year’s semi-final, a meeting Robinson is relishing. The 21-year-old recalls sitting in the dressing room in devastation after his red card, praying Hearts would prevail and he wouldn’t be made a scapegoat. His wish came true but that didn’t erase some pangs of guilt. Sunday provides a unique chance to exorcise any demons in a replica of last year’s semi-final. “I’ve learned from that day,” said Robinson, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “At the time, I thought I’d let the whole team down and let the club down. I maybe shouldn’t have gone into the tackle at the time but the boys bailed me out and we got through in the end. Unfortunately, I missed the final through injury.
“There was a right good feeling that day. Hearts fans had three stands at Easter Road and the place was bouncing. It’s great to be on the pitch when the fans are behind you like that, especially at Easter Road. It was quite strange in a way. We played really well in the game and, if we can get the ball down and play the way we have been recently, I’m sure we will cause Inverness problems.”
It is perhaps surprising to hear a Hearts player revelling in thoughts of playing at Easter Road. Robinson openly discusses his affection for Hibs’ home and explains why the venue inspires him. “I like playing at Easter Road, it’s probably the best stadium in Scotland for me to play at,” he continued.
“On derby day, I like it at Easter Road. Obviously playing at Tynecastle is brilliant but, when the Hearts fans are at Easter Road and there is that buzz going down there, it’s a special feeling. It’s a good big pitch and a good surface to play on. If the fans get right behind us like they did last year, I think we can get a positive result. As a team, we have experience of a good feeling down there last year. Inverness will want to turn that round and make sure they don’t have that same feeling as last time. We want to progress to the final and leave them feeling the same way.”
Hearts are certainly in fine fettle going into the semi-final. In fact, they are arguably better prepared for such a high-octane occasion now than at any point this season. Their last three league matches have produced two wins, a draw and seven goals. Performance levels have risen along with confidence, and team morale is now soaring. “We beat St Mirren on Wednesday night and that’s the first time we’ve got back-to-back wins for I don’t know how long,” said Robinson. “It’s a great feeling and we want to take it on to Sunday. It will be huge for us to get to another final. Maybe the season won’t be too bad after all.”
Robinson’s own performances are mirroring his team’s right now. He is approaching optimum form after a difficult first half of the season in which he became a target for criticism from some Hearts fans. His displays against Ross County last Saturday and St Mirren in midweek were full of the midfield hustle and bustle which is his trademark.
He was awarded the sponsors’ man of the match on Wednesday but is simply relieved to be involved in his team’s uprising. They remain 16 points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership but seem to have improved since being dismissed as relegation certainties.
“It’s pleasing to get man of the match, although I didn’t even hear it getting announced,” said Robinson. “I’ve just been trying to keep my head down and work away at getting some consistent form. It seems to be coming, not just from me but from the whole team.
“We’ve got a bit of confidence about us now that we’re looking like we’re confident on the ball. We’re passing it about and keeping it on the deck and we look a threatening team at times. I think we’ve just got together and said: ‘Look, we’ve nothing to lose. Let’s get the ball down and play with a tempo, work hard for each other, never give up till the end and see where it takes us’. I would hope I’m reaching something like top form now. I’ve got to take it on from here, though. I can’t just have a few good games and let the form drop again. It’s not just about me, it’s about the team. We need to keep this up as a team and keep our momentum going forward.
“The manager has said he’s been delighted with me. He’s happy with the team and our work rate. If we keep playing as we are and keep the right attitude, then we’ll pick up more points than we’ll lose. There is more belief within the team now, without doubt. You can see from the way we’re pressing teams that there is that buzz about us. When we get the ball down, there is confidence on the ball that wasn’t really there for a while. We’re feeling good about ourselves and we’re really looking forward to Sunday.”
Robinson warned against allowing complacency to set in. “Just because we beat Inverness last time doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen again. For a start, they have a different manager. They’re playing different football and I’m sure they’re looking to play a bit more under John Hughes because I know that’s what he likes. We have different players to last year and Inverness have a different system. I’m sure it will be a completely different game.”