It’s very unfortunate that the build-up to Hearts’ biggest game of the season has been marred by the news that the club have taken the decision to close a section of the Wheatfield Stand in response to recent instances of crowd trouble.
There have been several unsavoury incidents recently within Scottish football and for me they need to be addressed from the very top down, starting from the SFA. Hearts have obviously taken it upon themselves to tackle the problems and have been proactive in taking a very strong stance, which they are perfectly entitled to do.
However, my sympathy is with all the supporters in that area of the stadium who haven’t been involved in any trouble and will probably feel they’ve been tarred with a brush they don’t deserve to be tarred with. When it’s a minority of people that are involved in the trouble, it’s disappointing that the punishment also has to have an impact on those who are not misbehaving. We have to be careful that we’re not alienating some supporters who have done nothing wrong. It is obviously a difficult situation for the club in terms of striking a balance between keeping law and order but not suppressing the passion of the supporters.
A more pressing matter for the club to focus on this week is ensuring we reach the Scottish Cup final. Put simply, today’s semi-final against Inverness is absolutely massive and it’ll be hugely disappointing if we don’t win. It’s a game that we really should win. We can talk all we like about banana-skins and things like that, but Hearts have had a really fortunate Scottish Cup draw right through the tournament and it’s absolutely imperative that we take advantage and get to the final. The last time we got to a semi-final we were against Celtic, but a semi-final against a mid-table Championship side is the type of thing you’d bite people’s hands off for. I’m very confident we’ll get through. I think the gap is increasing between the top end of the Premiership and the Championship and there should be a big gulf between the two teams. With the size of support we have and the superior quality we have in our squad, we should be more than capable of beating Inverness convincingly in a game like this.
Inverness will come with enthusiasm and drive and they’ll carry a threat. I watched them against Dundee United in the last round and they were physical and strong. We can draw similarities with the semi-finals against Airdrie in the 1990s when Alex MacDonald – just like John Robertson – knew a lot about Hearts and was able to use it to his advantage, but the club is currently at a stage in its development where there can be no excuses for not dealing with a Championship side in a Scottish Cup semi-final. There are no financial problems, no real off-field problems, we have a lovely stadium, and all we really need now is the football team to start taking off. Winning a Scottish Cup would be nice way to kick that off.
In the short term, this game is crucial to ensuring this campaign doesn’t fizzle out the way the last couple of seasons did. As things stand, our remaining Premiership games are looking pretty meaningless. But if we can get to the cup final, it would add an extra edge to our league campaign because everybody would be on their toes, eager to make sure they’re in the team for the final and the supporters would also be in a much more excited mood than if things go wrong today.
From the very first whistle, we have to go out their all guns blazing, win our individual battles, make things happen and get the backing of the crowd after all that’s happened recently.
We have to be really positive in all areas of our play. We need to have some width in our game on what is a big pitch. Hibs showed the value of having a quality wide player last weekend. Daryl Horgan drifted inside to get his goals but ultimately he is a winger and that’s something we’ve not seen too much of at Hearts this season. Jake Mulraney has shown flashes of quality out wide and was very good at times before being substituted last weekend, but we need more from that area of the team in order to give Uche Ikpeazu better opportunities to get goals.
I just hope the Hearts supporters come home from Hampden today with a Scottish Cup final to look forward to as reward for their loyalty and all the investment they’ve put into our club over the past few years.