What a great weekend that was for everyone connected with Hearts; the team did themselves proud and we really couldn’t have asked for much more from them.
My weekend got off to a great start when we staged a Fighting Fund event at the Masonic at Shrubhill prior to the game on Saturday morning. Tosh McKinlay and George McNeill were there as speakers along with 200 Hearts supporters, so it was a really great occasion. We then headed along to Easter Road, many of us more in hope than expectation.
However, John McGlynn’s decision to play the younger, more mobile, quicker lads definitely paid off against an Inverness team who seemed to be more overawed by the occasion than we were.
The victory gives the team a fresh impetus for the rest of the season. They’ve shown on Saturday, for the third time this season, that they can match Inverness, the second-best team in the SPL, so now the challenge is to start replicating that on a more regular basis and start climbing the table. It would have been a real dampener on many levels if we had have got knocked out on Saturday.
With that in mind, I was surprised when I saw the team John picked, but Inverness are not the most mobile in midfield and I think John felt that the young boys would have the confidence to try and play round these guys, while also knowing that if it didn’t pay off, he could say it was a very young team. Thankfully, it all turned out perfectly for Hearts, and John, who has had his fair share of stick, deserves real credit for being so brave with his team selection.
Inverness did have a couple of really good chances, and things could have been different if Jamie MacDonald hadn’t made his two crucial saves. After the one he made in extra time, I think a lot of Hearts fans were probably starting to think it looked like it was going to be our day.
The young boys all did well, but, as I spoke about last week, it was the experience from the two centre-backs and our goalkeeper that proved to be particularly important. MacDonald, Marius Zaliukas and Andy Webster were immense, especially as, for over 43 minutes, they had to keep things together without Scott Robinson, who I thought did very well before being sent off.
It was an excellent team performance although I thought MacDonald was the most important individual for Hearts. Big Michael Ngoo looked a real handful in attack. To come in for his first game on loan, play 120 minutes in a cup semi-final, score a goal and a penalty in the shoot-out and produce a man-of-the-match display in many people’s eyes, is some feat. He’s set himself some standard and it’ll take some effort from Michael to reproduce that on a regular basis.
That goes for all the youngsters in the team, though. The key thing for them is that they can maintain those standards. We’ve had several young players down the years such as Graeme Weir and Gary Glen, who have broken into the team but haven’t been able to sustain their early promise. John McGlynn, ably assisted by Gary Locke, will place high demands on the current young boys and it will be their job to try and ensure that as many of them as possible can do that.
Speaking of Lockey, I’m absolutely delighted for him. This will be our sixth final in the last 17 years and Gary Locke, either as a player or as a coach, will have been involved in five of them. That’s some feat.
The only negative is that Marius Zaliukas will miss out on the final through suspension. It’s a real sore one.