Craig Levein insists Hearts can go toe to toe with Celtic at BT Murrayfield tomorrow because they now have players to compete with the treble winners in every department.
The two clubs meet in a Betfred Cup semi-final eagerly anticipated by all concerned. Levein, the Hearts manager, feels his team are far better equipped to deal with Celtic – despite beating them 4-0 on one occasion last season – after he made 18 summer signings.
The Murrayfield pitch dimensions and grass length have been altered to the same as Hampden Park after the tie was moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh, but Levein is unconcerned by such smaller details.
Having watched his team stretch six points clear at the top of the Premiership, losing only one of 16 matches in all competitions so far, he explained why he feels they can now compete with Celtic in any one-off fixture.
“Murrayfield is looking good,” he said after Hearts trained there yesterday morning. “The pitch size is the same size as at Hampden, which is fine. The grass length – just to let you know – will be between 26 and 30mms. I am not worried about those types of things as much as I was last season.
“I feel our team last season, when we beat Celtic, was based on running, energy and pressing. We are different this year. A lot of the players we had last season could do that but could not do other things. This time we have better players who can do better things with the ball. It means we might have it a little bit more or longer than was the case last season.
“For us being the team that was doing the chasing most of the time last season, the size of the pitch was important. Not quite so much this season. Although Celtic, of course, you would argue having the better players then the bigger pitch should suit them better.
“I have more faith because of the nature of player we have. They are uncomplicated and hungry to be better. And motivation coming from within is always so much better than someone pushing or pulling or cajoling or hitting you with a big stick. It’s never the same kind motivation.
“We have better players and players with a better mindset and we also have momentum, which we did not have last season, when it was all bitty – some good performances then it would go to the next week and we would be poor. Last season was constant work just to keep us in the top six. This season has been a bit easier.”
The semi-final was originally scheduled to kick off at 7.45pm tomorrow, which would have severely limited the Hearts attendance. Levein believes Murrayfield is a more neutral venue and is excited to see almost 30,000 Hearts fans turn out.
“The thing for me is going into the game knowing we are not at Hampden with just 10,000 Hearts supporters and 40,000 Celtic supporters,” he said. “That feels good for me. The fact we are not at Hampden, where Celtic regularly play, feels good for me as well. But we still have to do it on the field, so we will see.”