Hearts aiming for return to Hampden

Edgaras Jankauskas
Edgaras Jankauskas
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HEARTS’ craving for Scottish Cup success is borne from an indifferent record in the competition since lifting the trophy six years ago. Last time they embraced a quarter- final tie, they went on to lift the trophy. Hope is that this season’s progress represents something of an omen.

St Mirren visit Tynecastle on Saturday in an intriguing last-eight encounter for which Hearts are favourites. The stadium last witnessed a Scottish Cup quarter-final in 2006 when Partick Thistle were defeated 2-1 with goals from Edgaras Jankauskas and Deividas Cesnauskis. Just over two months later, Steven Pressley hoisted the trophy aloft at Hampden Park following a penalty-shootout win over Gretna in the final.

Since then, Hearts haven’t made it past the second hurdle of the national cup competition, with the first point of entry for SPL clubs changing from third round to fourth since season 2007/08. The disappointment is not lost on those at Tynecastle who developed an affection for the world’s oldest football tournament following successes in 1998 and 2006.

In 2006/07, with cup-winning coach Valdas Ivanauskas still in charge, a 4-0 win at Stranraer in the third round preceded a 1-0 loss at Dunfermline in the fourth. The following year it was Stephen Frail’s turn to occupy the dugout for the 2-2 fourth-round draw at home to Motherwell, which was followed by a 1-0 defeat at Fir Park in the replay.

Hearts’ 2008/09 Scottish Cup campaign began with the exhilaration of an Edinburgh derby victory over Hibs at Easter Road in the fourth round. However, Falkirk recorded a dogged 1-0 win at Tynecastle in the following round as Csaba Laszlo suffered cup malaise in his first season in charge. The next year Aberdeen won their fourth-round tie with Hearts 2-0 at Pittodrie in one of the final matches of Laszlo’s tenure.

The Hungarian made way for Jim Jefferies, who lost the only Scottish Cup tie of his second spell in charge at Tynecastle 1-0 to St Johnstone last season. Whilst league placings and League Cup results have been relatively encouraging in recent years, Hearts’ Scottish Cup fortunes leave much room for improvement.

This year brings an opportunity to reach the semi-finals. After eliminating Auchinleck Talbot and St Johnstone – the latter after a replay – Hearts are in buoyant mood awaiting St Mirren’s arrival in Edinburgh. They remain high on adrenalin following last weekend’s league victory at Ibrox and will be mindful that St Mirren’s last trip to Gorgie saw them walloped 5-2 by the ten-man home team.

With Rangers out and Celtic facing a potentially hazardous trip to play in-form Dundee United, the notion is that Hearts can go far in the tournament. “I think Hearts supporters feel there is a real opportunity for us in the cup this season,” said former chairman George Foulkes, who will attend this weekend’s tie with his two sons and grandson. “Rangers are out and our cup performances have been better than some of our SPL displays, so that gives some encouragement.

“It’s going to be very difficult to catch Motherwell and Rangers in the league, even though Rangers have lost ten points for entering administration. The cup could be the saving grace for us this year.

“I’ve got friends who support Celtic and Dundee United and they have all said to me they would like to meet Hearts in the final. Fans of those clubs would like us to get through and I think that’s an encouraging sign. I’m very much an optimist and sometimes that tempts fate, but I’ve kept the dates for the semi-final and the final free this year. That’s me hoping.

“I’d like to see a good attendance at Tynecastle on Saturday because that makes a big difference. This old football cliche about the crowd being the 12th man is very true. If we have a good home support it can really help Hearts.”

If any added motivation is required against St Mirren, the prospect of another Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs at Hampden should do the trick. The 4-0 demolition of their Edinburgh rivals in the 2006 semi-final was, for some, just as pleasing as the final itself. “I’ve spoken to a number of people who have said to me that, assuming we beat St Mirren, they would look forward to another Hampden semi-final against Hibs and a similar result to last time. There is a feeling that these things can repeat themselves,” laughed Foulkes.

“Hibs are playing Ayr United in their tie and Ayr have already put us out of one cup competition this season so we’re not keen to meet them again. I think the thought is that if we can overcome St Mirren then a Hearts-Hibs semi-final would be good. It was a great experience last time and we would want the same kind of outcome.

“It was a funny year in 2006, even though we won in the final. I’d like to see a repeat of our previous cup victory in 1998 at Parkhead. That was a fantastic day out. To have the same kind of day out against Celtic or Dundee United would put the icing on the cake for Hearts’ season.”

Foulkes feels that Hearts’ hopes of lifting the trophy in the final on May 19 will rest on their ability to overcome Celtic. “I think we will have to beat Celtic to win the cup. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. The cup provides opportunities like that. Lesser teams than Hearts have beaten Celtic in cup contests so there would be nothing to stop us doing it. But first let’s focus on St Mirren and try to go from there.”