Craig Levein expects Hearts to enter Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final with Celtic brimming with confidence after stretching their lead atop the Premiership to six points.
Last night’s convincing 3-0 win at Dundee underlined the feelgood factor coursing through the Edinburgh club, who now head to BT Murrayfield with more than 27,000 supporters to meet Celtic.
Oliver Bozanic’s 25-yard free-kick and Steven Naismith’s tap-in had the visitors 2-0 up at Dens Park inside 14 minutes. Steven MacLean added a third after half-time to emphasise Hearts’ superiority over the league’s bottom club.
Manager Levein insisted he would not pay too much attention to the six-point advantage but said his team are bang in form for the weekend.
“I don’t need to worry about the points just now,” he explained. “We aren’t back in league action until the Hibs game, so now we can focus on Sunday. We’re in good form. It was good that Steven MacLean got a goal, Naisy was on the scoresheet again and Olly Bozanic scored his first goal for the club.
“We’ve played two matches in a short space of time before the semi-final and won them both. I said to the players they have to take confidence from the form they’re in.
“When the Dundee game got rescheduled, I realised it was on the week of the semi but Celtic play this week as well. I’m not going to complain about it, especially now that we’ve won.
“I never thought about being clear at the top. You’re always hoping to build momentum as quickly as possible. Initially, we had some difficult situations in the Betfred Cup and I think that helped to pull the team together. We lost some points and won a penalty shootout and then had to win a game.
“From that, we were just tapping into the same feeling. The only time we’ve lost, we shot ourselves in the foot against Rangers and the players know that. That’s not something they are prone to doing, so I expect us to continue in good form.”
Bozanic’s strike on two minutes set the tone for a strong Hearts display. “We started well and scored early,” said Levein. “Dundee are in a difficult place right now and that put them on the back foot. The second goal put us in a position where I’d hope we would never lose from. The important message at half-time was to get the third goal and then your evening becomes a little bit easier. We scored right away so it was one of the less stressful days.
“We got Harry Cochrane back from injury and I thought he was excellent considering he’s hardly played. His calves were cramping up so we took him off. I took Naismith off because he’s had a lot of football and got a lot of football to come. It was just a precaution. Demi Mitchell was feeling cramp and Ben Garuccio got some game time, so it was a good night for us.”
The Dundee manager Jim McIntyre is faced with the difficult task of lifting his players after losing his first two games in charge, during which seven goals have been conceded. He insisted improvement will come in time.
“When you start the games the way we’ve started, that’s what happens,” he lamented. “We need to give ourselves a hand. The players showed character at 2-0 down against Hearts when it would be easy to feel sorry for yourself and collapse, but we didn’t. We had a real go at it in the first half and created some opportunities. That’s the positive.
“We need to eradicate the self destruct. There might be a bit of pain before it gets better, but it will get better. That’s for sure.”