STILL only 20, Scott Robinson takes each step of his football education in his stride. Nothing seems to faze the diminutive Hearts midfielder. Except this week is different as he prepares for the biggest occasion yet in his burgeoning career.
The William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic at the National Stadium is a monumental match for all concerned. Robinson is likely to be the youngest player on the field, and would therefore be expected to display slightly more nerves than others.
Perhaps nervous isn’t the word to describe him. To borrow some football parlance, “buzzing” would be a more apt portrayal. Robinson bounds out of the dressing-room at Riccarton with a beaming smile across his face and a warm embrace before explaining why he is consumed by excitement.
“The club hasn’t been at Hampden for a while so to be involved in such a big game against Celtic is brilliant.
“If I take part, it will be the biggest game of my career so far. Especially with it being against Celtic with the chance for us to reach a Scottish Cup final,” he said, adding that the Hearts training ground has been bustling all week as anticipation grows ahead of Sunday.
Players young and old sense the prospect of a successful end to another tumultuous campaign at Tynecastle.
A change in manager, wage delays and player exits can’t have been easy to cope with, but the chance of a cup final appearance is on the horizon. Not forgetting the prospect of European qualification through either the cup or league.
“If we do get into the final and even finish fourth in the league, that’s a very successful season after all the troubles that have gone on,” continued Robinson. “We’ve had wages problems and stuff like that but this could still be a great season if we reach the final. When I was younger, I remember watching the likes of Henrik Larsson play. You never thought you would have the chance to play against Celtic at Hampden when you were watching them lift trophies. It would be a great feeling to be selected on Sunday.”
Celtic, of course, are fresh from a league title success at Rugby Park last week when they thrashed Kilmarnock 6-0. Previous to that, they endured a harrowing experience against the Ayrshire club at Hampden.
It was just four games ago that Kilmarnock triumphed in the Scottish Communities League Cup final, thus prompting the shock of the domestic season. From Hearts’ perspective, that result could be viewed as both a positive and a negative.
One one hand, Kilmarnock proved Celtic are far from invincible at Hampden despite their impressive record there.
On the other, the desire to atone for the League Cup final defeat will now be enormous within manager Neil Lennon and his players. “Celtic lost to Kilmarnock, then they go to Rugby Park and beat them 6-0,” said Robinson. “With Celtic, you’ve just got to get in their faces on the day and do your best to prevent them playing their football. Then you see what happens.”
Hearts can derive some inspiration from their last Scottish Cup semi-final six years ago. A thumping 4-0 defeat of their Edinburgh rivals Hibs wrote the names of those involved into Tynecastle folklore. Two players present in maroon that day, Rudi Skacel and Andy Webster, have since returned to the club and will play key roles against Celtic.
Robinson was just 14 at the time, although fate would decree he was just two years short of becoming the youngest player ever to sample senior football in the SPL. He remembers the day well.
“I was in the house watching it with a few of my mates and I remember Paul Hartley scoring a hat-trick. I must have had a game that weekend for the under-14s or under-15s.
“I couldn’t believe it, really. Hearts just blew Hibs away and Hartley was magnificent. I’m sure the fans will always remember that.
“I never thought I would get to that stage. I always remember coming into the training ground one day in the car around that time. I saw Rudi and Roman Bednar and I remember rolling down the window and shouting on Rudi. Now I’m playing beside him and training on the same pitch as him every day. Things like that are just crazy.
“I suppose it shows just how far I’ve come. When you think about things like that it’s a wee bit surreal but I’ve just got to try and take it in my stride and try to push on.”
Robinson has certainly achieved that this season, amassing 24 appearances so far and establishing himself as a first-team regular in his favoured midfield role.
With his idol Skacel alongside him, he is well guided. He knows he can ask the Czech for advice on anything, like how to handle a cup-winning party should the situation transpire. “Rudi says it was one of the best feelings of his career when Hearts won the cup in 2006,” said Robinson.
“In particular the parade in Edinburgh the day after the final. He said he’s never experienced anything like it. Lockie says it’s one of the best days of your life. If you’ve a Glasgow club you don’t get the chance to do that. But in Edinburgh it’s such a fantastic day if you get to the final and win. It’s six years since Hearts won a trophy so, if we do win silverware, the fans will be delighted and it will be remembered for a long time to come.”