THE last time Hearts beat Celtic at Tynecastle, they did so when few people gave them much hope and Ryan Stevenson was on the scoresheet. The bullish forward is desperate for a repeat in tomorrow’s Scottish Cup fourth-round showdown.
In a run of form similar to that shown by Gary Locke’s team at present, Paulo Sergio’s side had won only two of their previous eight matches in all competitions as they prepared to host Neil Lennon’s men in October 2011. They had just produced a limp display in a defeat at St Johnstone, while the Glasgow side, as they are this weekend, were coming into the match on the back of a European clash at home to Italian opposition after drawing with Udinese in the Europa League.
With Hearts having scrambled their way to a 2-2 draw at home to ten-man Ross County, they are widely viewed as rank outsiders for tomorrow’s match. Stevenson, who added to Rudi Skacel’s opener in that 2-0 victory a little over two years ago, is adamant Hearts are capable of pulling off another upset against the Premiership leaders and Scottish Cup holders.
“It was a good result that day and it shows that you can do it,” recalls Stevenson. “I remember we’d just lost at St Johnstone and Paulo was under a bit of pressure, but we managed to get a decent result. It’ll be the same on Sunday – we’ll look to bounce back from last Saturday because we were disappointed coming away with the 2-2 at the end. Ideally you probably wouldn’t like to get Celtic so early in the cup, but it’s one we look forward to. It’s going to be another good day at Tynecastle.”
Stevenson and his colleagues are buoyed by the fact they have generally produced their best form this season when no-one has given them much hope of pulling off a result. Ideally, the 29-year-old Ayrshireman would rather Hearts found a way of beating their fellow strugglers in the league. However, with regards to facing the best team in the country, he knows unexpected recent victories at Easter Road and Pittodrie will stand his side in good stead for their latest tilt at upsetting the odds, even if he has no idea why they’ve developed such a habit of winning the harder games and falling flat in the ones they’re expected to do well in.
“That’s the million-dollar question just now,” he said. “I think the manager and players are scratching our heads. It’s something that we need to address sharpish, because our biggest games are against the teams round about us and we’ve probably underperformed in them. We know we need to pick up points against those teams, but, as it is just now, we’ve done well against the bigger teams, and there’s no bigger team than Celtic, so hopefully we can cause another upset. We’ve done well in cup ties over the last couple of years too, so we’ll look to get a positive result.
“We played well against Celtic at Tynecastle at the beginning of the season and on another day could have got something out of it. It’s not a game we go into with fear or anything like that.”
Stevenson’s commitment to the Hearts cause is underlined by his desire to play through the pain barrier, with injuries from earlier in the season still causing him a degree of discomfort. At one stage against County last weekend, he looked like he would have to come off injured, but instead he played to the bitter end. “Against Wolfsburg I felt my hamstring and then I tried to chase the ball in the corner against Ross County and I felt it again,” he said. “I’m just really soldiering on right now. I think the way it is, it’s not about coming off. On another day I’d have come off and rested, but the situation we are in right now means it’s all hands on deck. It’s the same with my knee – I’m just going to have to get on with it.
“Unless it snaps or I can’t walk I will be playing for Hearts. Did I have a rest this week? No, I’m scared to stop in case I don’t start again. At 29 I can feel it all catching up with me. No, I’m just battering on. That’s the kind of person I am.”