Don Cowie expects Kyle Lafferty to grab the ball first should Hearts get a penalty in Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at Motherwell.
Kilmarnock goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald saved the Northern Irishman’s potential match-winning spot-kick in the final minute of Tuesday’s 1-1 Premiership draw at Tynecastle, but Cowie insists his colleague will still have the character to take his team’s next penalty.
Lafferty is Hearts’ designated penalty taker and, if one is awarded to the Edinburgh club this weekend, he will again be tasked with the responsibility. Cowie explained that the striker won’t allow Tuesday’s disappointment to destroy his confidence and backed him to find the net next time.
“Kyle will need lifted a wee bit after that. He’s a goalscorer and when you get the change so late in the game, there’s no real time to rectify it when you miss. So that was disappointing for him,” said Cowie. “However, it happens. People miss penalties all the time, we move on. We wanted him to score, he didn’t. That’s it.
“His head was down in the dressing room, but we’ll pick him up and make sure he is ready. If we get a penalty against Motherwell, I’m sure he’ll be first one wanting to take it. He is that sort of person, that sort of player. He has a striker’s instincts and wants to score goals. Anyone can miss a penalty but it’s about having he courage to take the next one. Kyle has that.”
Cup progress has been almost non-existent for Cowie since he moved to Tynecastle two years ago. Hearts have been knocked out in the early rounds of both the League Cup and the Scottish Cup in recent reasons, and the 35-year-old is eager to experience the feeling of winning a major honour in his homeland after spending much of his career in England.
“What Hearts need to be doing is getting to the latter stages of cup competitions and we have not managed that,” he admitted. “This is my first quarter-final here and I’ll not be hiding what a massive game it is. It will be tough, Motherwell have improved since the transfer window and have re-energised their squad. It will be a hard game but one we believe we can come through.”
Hearts will be eager to try and take care of business at the first attempt in Lanarkshire, although a replay back at Tynecastle would be no major disaster. Too many draws have undermined their progress in the Ladbrokes Premiership this season, with Tuesday’s match a case in point.
Kilmarnock moved ahead inside three minutes through striker Eamonn Brophy’s composed finish. Steven Naismith then headed his first goal in maroon before MacDonald held Lafferty’s penalty in the dying seconds. Hearts had the chance to secure three points but were forced to accept only one for the 12th time in their 29 league fixtures so far this season.
They are now losing ground in their quest to finish inside the top four.
“It probably looked like a draw was a fair result but when you get the penalty, you want to score and turn the point into three – and it would have been a great three points against a team on a very good run of form,” said Cowie. “Kilmarnock are a it like ourselves having gone through that change of manager. They are resilient and hard to beat. We’ve probably drawn too many games and we want to turn those draws into wins. Credit to them, though, they are on an unbelievable run of form.”
Encouragingly, Naismith was full of energy and running after overcoming a hamstring issue which affected his participation over the last few weeks.
A loan signing from Norwich City last month, he broke his Hearts duck against his formative club and is seen as an integral part of manager Craig Levein’s plans for the final three months of the campaign. He and Lafferty will have a big say in how strongly their team finishes come May.
“It’s been a frustrating two weeks for Naisy,” said Cowie. “He thought he was going to be fit but didn’t quite make it for the last two games. To see him back out there was great, especially completing 90 minutes and getting his first goal.
“That can only be good for us, he is a quality player – we all know that – and has played international football throughout his career. That can only be good from now until the end of the season.”
If Hearts are to progress to the last four of the Scottish Cup, the 31-year-old’s influence will be a huge help. He had to sit out matches earlier this month to rest his hamstring and Cowie believes that was a necessary evil to ensure he remains available until May. He is then contractually obliged to return to parent club Norwich.
“The club pulled out all the stops to get Steven and it’s been frustrating that he hasn’t been able to play more,” admitted Cowie. “But now we have a massive game on Sunday and hopefully, with that 90 minutes under his belt on Tuesday night, he’ll be ready and raring to go.”
Naismith’s experience allows him to decide when he is and isn’t right to play, and Cowie praised him for making the correct decision with the remainder of Hearts’ season firmly in mind.
“He’s a sensible person and experienced. He knows he was close to fitness in the last couple of games, but he made the right decision.
“I’m sure that will mean we see the best of him in the longer term between now and the end of the season. He is an important player for us.”