Exclusive: Stephen Kingsley's career target comes sharply into focus as Hearts face Rangers in Viaplay Cup

The Tynecastle defender still has one long-term aim which remains unfulfilled
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Stephen Kingsley leans against a wall deep inside Tynecastle Park reflecting on a varied football career. Since a Falkirk debut aged 16, he has played in the English Premier League, beaten Arsenal at the Emirates, won Scotland caps and scored in a national cup final. Now 29, many boxes are already ticked. One biggie remains blank, though.

A major medal has eluded Kingsley thus far, something which gnaws away at the Hearts defender ahead of Sunday's Viaplay Cup semi-final against Rangers. He scored in the delayed 2020 Scottish Cup final against Celtic, but later missed a penalty in the shootout as Hearts lost out. He also played in the 2022 final in the same competition and was on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline after extra-time against Rangers.

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If you are reaching extra-time and penalties against the country's two biggest clubs, you can't be far away. Kingsley's only honours to date are the 2012 Challenge Cup with Falkirk and the 2021 Scottish Championship title with Hearts. No-one will be more motivated than him at Hampden this weekend with the opportunity to edge a step closer to that medal.

Previous cup final disappointments are lodged in his mind. "Always, yes. It doesn't affect me because experience helps, but it's a massive goal of mine," said Kingsley in an exclusive Edinburgh News interview. "I've been lucky enough to play at really good level and play for my country and everything, but I'm still champing at the bit to get that cup success.

"I'm obviously proud of what I've done in my career, but you want that trophy, you want that medal and the experience of that high. I think it would be something you will always remember above all else. It's going to be tough on Sunday but we will give it absolutely everything we've got."

Last time Kingsley played in a cup semi-final at Hampden, he leathered one into the top corner. His raking effort against Hibs in the 2022 Scottish Cup semi will live long in the memory of Hearts fans. "Yeah, I'm hoping it's something similar this time. If there is a free-kick or if I get into good areas in open play, I might have a wee pop," smirked the player.

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"I had a couple of free-kicks earlier in the season in decent positions and didn't quite take advantage of them. Since then, they haven't really been in the right area. My preferred distance would be far out on the left. If I'm not taking them then hopefully I can provide an aerial threat in the box. I'm just waiting for one on the edge of the box to try and get my first one of the season. I'm overdue one."

Hearts travel to Hampden knowing they ran Rangers closer than close in the league at Ibrox last weekend, losing 2-1 to goals in the 90th and 92nd minute. A 1-0 home win over Livingston on Wednesday offers extra hope that they can prevail in Glasgow and reach the League Cup final.

"There were definitely positives from last Sunday at Ibrox," explained Kingsley. "We knocked the ball about in the first half. Obviously Rangers weren't at their best and they would admit that themselves, but we did very well to disrupt them. We were pretty composed on the ball. We got the early goal and the second half was backs against the ball trying to see out the win. We didn't get there in the end but we can take plenty from the game.

"We definitely need the composure we showed in the first half last week, and again on Wednesday. It can't just be a case of sitting back and absorb the pressure without being dangerous ourselves. It's a semi-final and we want to get to the final."

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