Hearts boss steeling himself for tough Motherwell cup trip
Clearing snow, slush and ice in and around Fir Park won't make life that much easier for Hearts. Manager Craig Levein believes their task, should tomorrow's Scottish Cup quarter-final go ahead, is one of the toughest in the competition.
Motherwell away remains a hazardous fixture before any inclement weather is factored into the equation. Stephen Robinson has the Lanarkshire side organised, resilient and in decent form.
Fir Park staff have spent the last few days working tirelessly to ensure tomorrow’s tie goes ahead in front of the BBC Scotland television cameras. The Beast From The East has left plenty precipitation in its wake, but Levein believes Hearts are facing a different animal in Motherwell.
“This is one of the hardest draws we could have got. They are in decent form,” he said. “They had a little blip when Louis Moult left for Preston when the transfer window opened, but they seem to have steadied the ship a little bit and added the lad [Curtis] Main, who has done a god job.
“They’re back to pretty much where they were pre-Christmas and, at that time, they were going really well. So it is a difficult place to win games.
“When you get to the quarter-finals of the cup, the first thing you’d like is a home draw. Then you’d like to avoid the top teams in the league and we’ve managed to do that. Motherwell away is probably the next hardest one, but I think we still have a great opportunity to impress.
“Stephen has them playing in a way where they all understand what they are doing, and it’s always dangerous when a team as a way of playing and they’re good at it. We’re not quite there yet, we’re still a work in progress and I am hopeful come the transfer window in the summer that we can kick on again. I have been relatively happy with the way things have gone. I am disappointed not to have picked up more points in the league. To get into a situation where we have got to the quarter-finals of the cup, I don’t think we have been there for a while, so that feels good.”
Hearts’ previous appearance in the tournament’s last eight was six years ago in 2012. They, of course, went on to win the trophy that year by beating city neighbours Hibs in the final.
Preparations for this one have been heavily disrupted by the mountains of snow affecting the entire country. Levein’s training plans have had to be reorganised at the last minute, and the manager himself had trouble simply getting out of his street.
Hearts trained inside the Oriam astrodome at Riccarton yesterday morning but Levein admitted getting there was a task in itself. He has no idea whether tomorrow’s tie will actually go ahead as planned.
“It wasn’t exactly easy getting in,” he explained. “In the village I am in there were snow drifts of five feet and somebody’s car got abandoned and that blocked everyone in.
“I would imagine it’s the same for everyone because this has been unprecedented weather. The good thing is most of our lads stay fairly local. The main routes are fine. Once I got out of the village and on the main road it was okay.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, whether they will just call this game off or not, but I hope not. I am hoping the game will go ahead but I just don’t know.
“We had the day off on Thursday and that didn’t work out too badly for us with it being a Sunday match. Yesterday was important because we didn’t do a lot on Wednesday either after the game [against Kilmarnock] on Tuesday night.
“We have been able to use the indoor pitch at Oriam which makes a big difference. It’s an unusual preparation but everyone is in the same boat and will have their own stories of difficulties at this time.”
Levein mounted a strong defence of Joaquim Adao despite him being booked five times in his first five Hearts appearances. The on-loan Sion midfielder is one of eight players – four Hearts and four Motherwell – who will be banned for the semi-final if booked in the quarters.
Levein stressed that the Angolan internationalist is not dirty and feels he has been harshly treated at times. “He’s been unlucky with three of the bookings and I do get a little exasperated when I see some of the other things going on that get unpunished,” said the manager.
“Listen, that’s life. I see a lot of tackles in the league that are a lot worse than any of the ones he has made and sometimes they are not even bookings, never mind anything else.
“That does frustrate me slightly, but as I say that’s just the way it is. I think he feels hard done by. He’s a defensive midfield player and by the very nature of that he is going to make more challenges than other midfield players.
“I believe he should still be able to make tackles. It’s still not outlawed, although we’re getting there slowly!
“There’s an art in it – he is good at it. I do feel we have gone a little too far the other way in that it seems like with every challenge there has to be a decision whether it’s a foul or not, rather than letting the game flow.
“We had Kevin Clancy for the cup game against Hibs in January and for me that was a good old-fashioned derby match where people were allowed to make challenges. I just think the game has gone too far the other way where every challenge becomes a decision.”
John Souttar – one of the four Hearts players at risk of a cup suspension – remains doubtful due to a tight hamstring. Demetri Mitchell is still suffering pain in his knee after Tuesday night’s league match with Kilmarnock.