Craig Levein insists Hearts are still fighting for European football and the Scottish Cup ahead of tonight’s quarter-final trip to Partick Thistle. The manager stressed his players are pursuing a Europa League spot via the Premiership and want to reach the Scottish Cup final in May.
They have collected only four points from the last 15 in the league but are strong favourites for this evening’s tie at Firhill. Levein is eager to secure a semi-final place and a launchpad to achieve the stated targets by the end of the campaign.
“There is so much to play for. There is Europe still to play for and there is the Scottish Cup,” he told the Evening News. “Today’s game is the next game so it’s important. We want to get to the semi-final and we want to get to the final after that if possible.
“It’s a long time since we got to two semis in the same season and I’d love to get to the final. If we have all our players fit and available, we are capable of beating anybody. We just have to wait and see how it goes tonight.”
The manager is cautious of the experience within the Thistle ranks despite their placing at the bottom of the Championship. “They’ve got Kris Doolan, Scott McDonald, Gary Harkins, Blair Spittal. These guys have played at decent levels and they’re good players,” he added.
“On their day, if they are focused and on their game, they will be a handful. They will be up for it for sure. It’s a cup quarter-final against a Premiership team. They aren’t going to be fazed playing against Hearts. These guys have done it loads of times.
“Regarding their league position, I don’t think Partick will play to that level. I think they will play to a raised level because of the focus required for this tie. It’s not going to be easy at all.”
Levein is up against his former player Gary Caldwell tonight, whom he managed at international level with Scotland. Caldwell was appointed Thistle manager last October after previous spells in charge of Wigan and Chesterfield.
“I had Gary in the national team and he is a good guy. He always did his best, had good character and an honesty about him that I liked,” said Levein. “I’ve spoken to him a couple of times and I hope he does really well because he is a young Scottish manager making his way in the game.
“It’s not easy to go into this business. It’s cut-throat. It’s the loneliest place in the world if things aren’t going well. That can affect the rest of your life. It’s a very precarious business and a very precarious job. It takes a bit of bottle to go into.
“Gary has had a couple of bigger jobs but you need to learn your trade, dealing with players and press, trying things on the field to see what works. All that takes time. It’s not as simple as going from playing to management. I haven’t spoken to anybody who found it easy.”