Deepest Springburn on a Saturday afternoon is the last place you would expect to find a former Scotland manager on a mission to win the Scottish Cup with Hearts. Yet Craig Levein revelled in the raw atmosphere at Petershill Park last weekend whilst spying on tomorrow’s opponents, Auchinleck Talbot.
He received plenty of attention from locals at “The Peasy”, who were encapsulated by such a well-known Scottish football figure visiting for the day. The Glasgow humour was in full flow, even allowing for the fact Auchinleck rampaged to a 7-0 victory.
It was all part of Hearts’ preparations to ensure there is no embarrassment on Sunday when Talbot visit Tynecastle Park in the Scottish Cup fifth round. Levein played junior football as a 16-year-old at Lochore Welfare. He knows the pitfalls, the guts and the characters existing at that level.
“I went to Petershill last week and it was brilliant. I loved it. The punters were magic,” he smiled. “There was a guy trying to put an Auchinleck scarf on me continually. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I ended up grabbing the scarf and throwing it on the pitch. They were really welcoming and some of the shouts are brilliant.
“I enjoyed playing junior football when I played. I was only 16 at the time. In those days, even when I got to the Premier League, there weren’t as many cameras. A lot of things that happened in junior football were still going on in senior football. You learned to watch out when the ball was at the other end of the park.
“It was difficult for me to take anything from the game last week, other than a look at players and see their strengths and weaknesses. Petershill had a man sent off after 20 minutes or so and it was already looking like a one-sided match. That didn’t help.”
Auchinleck will bring close to 2,500 fans to Tynecastle tomorrow hoping to cause one of the biggest upsets in Scottish football history. They knocked out Championship side and local rivals Ayr United in the last round. Their fanbase and reputation suggests they could at least hold their own within the professional leagues in Scotland.
“I always find it hard to judge where they would be in the SPFL,” said Levein. “They had some good players, their defenders defended properly.
“They have a young lad at left-back, Gordon Pope, who was a young kid at Dundee United when I was there and is a decent footballer. They had energy in midfield, [Jamie] Glasgow is a good tricky wide player and they have pace up front.
“They are used to winning, they win nearly every week. They are not accustomed to losing matches and I think that’s their biggest asset, their biggest threat.”
Hearts have notable armour of their own which grew stronger in midweek when the hulking striker Uche Ikpeazu returned from a four-month injury absence.
He is challenging for a starting place tomorrow, with David Vanecek also likely to be involved at some stage.
“I was happy with Uche in midweek, he was good, so he’ll play for sure,” confirmed Levein.
For Oliver Bozanic, the Hearts midfielder, there is a potential chance to add the Scottish Cup to its Australian equivalent if the Tynecastle side can progress to this season’s final.
Bozanic won the 2015 Football Federation Australia Cup with Melbourne Victory and it remains one of his career highlights.
“It was a big moment and it was the first time in the club’s history that we had won the cup,” said the 30-year-old.
“To win a trophy is a massive achievement in anyone’s career. This is the next step for us in the Scottish Cup with Hearts and we have to try and beat Auchinleck to get into the next round.”