Even before the game, I think most people would have considered our trip to Parkhead as one that we could have done without, given the massive match which we have ahead of this weekend. Having seen the outcome of yesterday’s clash, it’s now hugely important that everyone involved simply tries to erase it from their memory and focus on Saturday’s Scottish Cup final.
Celtic were always going to be in celebratory mood and it’s clear from the team selection that Hearts’ main focus was very much on this weekend’s game rather than yesterday’s, so it was always going to be difficult. When we line up with the likes of Stephen Elliott, Darren Barr, Rudi Skacel, Ian Black and, hopefully, Craig Beattie this Saturday, we will be an entirely different proposition to the Hearts team that took the field at Parkhead. I know the back four and the goalkeeper will be those who start in the final, but I don’t think we need to worry about that. Yesterday’s game will have no bearing on the mindset for this weekend. Although I don’t place too much stock on yesterday’s game, it was perhaps slightly worrying from a supporter’s point of view that the team that played at Parkhead may have given us a little glimpse of the type of team which might take the field next season, with several Academy products. However, this is no week for anyone connected with Hearts to be dwelling on negatives.
Yesterday’s game is gone and we can at least take heart from the fact it didn’t harm our hopes of finishing fifth. There will be slightly less pressure on Hearts this weekend now that European football is assured. On the whole, we have to say it’s a good achievement for Hearts to have finished fifth. Considering all the ups and downs and the fact the manager’s only had one new addition to the squad since he took over, I think we’ve got to be relatively happy. We’ve had a particularly good home record and I think everyone at the club deserves plaudits for the way they’ve handled such adversity.
Having said all that, those plaudits will count for nothing if Hearts don’t bring the Scottish Cup back to Gorgie. This game is the be-all and end-all. Those players who didn’t play yesterday will have benefited from both the physical and mental rest of not facing the SPL champions. Even though we got hammered yesterday, I think it was a really good decision from the manager to rest some of his key men for the final.
Everybody at Hearts will now be going in to Riccarton this week focusing on one thing only – winning the Scottish Cup. There are no other distractions to contend with. I think the preparations will remain as normal as possible as that seems to be the manager’s way. I think if Hearts were playing any team other than Hibs, the players would be able to enjoy the build-up a lot more. But because it is Hibs, and Hearts have so much to lose, there is an extra pressure on the players which will make it that bit harder to channel their nervous energy in the proper manner.
However, the manager will be key to ensuring the players retain the right mindset. Paulo Sergio is very grounded and doesn’t seem to be the type of man to alter things just because we’ve got a final coming up. He will be totally focused on the task in hand and I’m sure that will shine through in the attitude of his players throughout the build-up and in the match itself. Hibs are going to Dublin to prepare, while Hearts are just keeping things as normal as possible, but I don’t think you can say one approach is right or the other is wrong. There are advantages of going away and there are also advantages of staying at home and letting the players enjoy home comforts. Only time will tell which team has done things the right way.