Hearts boss vows to play strongest team in Auchinleck Talbot cup tie

Uche Ikpeazu ' back in a Hearts shirt after four months out injured ' was disappointed as a chance went begging in the 0-0 draw with Livingston
Uche Ikpeazu ' back in a Hearts shirt after four months out injured ' was disappointed as a chance went begging in the 0-0 draw with Livingston
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Hearts manager Craig Levein has pledged to field his strongest available team for Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth-round tie against Junior club Auchinleck Talbot.

Despite facing the lowest-ranked team left in the tournament, Levein insisted he will not rest players or treat the opposition lightly. He watched them in person last weekend as they thrashed Petershill 7-0 and is aware of their winning mentality.

Hearts were held to a goalless draw by Livingston at Tynecastle Park last night, leaving Levein frustrated at full-time. His thoughts will now turn to Auchinleck – who knocked out Championship side Ayr United in the last round.

“There will be some changes but it’s not going to be a case of resting players because it’s Auchinleck Talbot. I’m not going to do that. I’ll play what I think is the strongest team,” he told the Evening News.

“I watched Auchinleck last week but Petershill had a man sent off quite early in the game. Auchinleck were already strong favourites so that skewed it even more. I still got to see the players and I know a little bit about them.

“I also have footage of the Auchinleck-Ayr United tie so I’ve got a wee bit of time to do some work on that. Auchinleck are used to winning and teams that are used to winning are always hard to beat. They’re resilient and the find ways of winning. They played Ayr at home and beat one of the top teams in the Championship, so you have to recognise they are no mugs. We have to be better in the last third of the field on Sunday than we were last night.”

Uche Ikpeazu returned from four months out injured and played as a substitute in the final stages, but Hearts could not find a breakthrough against a solid Livingston rearguard.

“I’m a bit frustrated. I can’t complain about the work-rate and effort of the team,” said Levein. “I thought we had loads of that. If you don’t against Livingston, there’s a chance you can lose. I thought we just lacked a bit of quality in the last third.

“Our recent games have been fairly close but we have managed to come up with something different to win us the match. We needed that last night. That was the difference between winning and drawing. Uche and John Souttar were unlucky not to score but it was frustrating.

“I expected what we got from Livingston. They matched up with us and went man-for-man for long periods. In those situations, it’s up to us to be creative and find some magic or quality in that last third. We didn’t manage to do it on a night when Aberdeen lost and Kilmarnock drew. It was a chance to make a statement but I can’t be too critical when it’s a lack of quality that costs us.”

The big positive was Ikpeazu’s reappearance and he was given a rousing welcome by the home support at Tynecastle.

“It was brilliant seeing him back and we were better when he came on,” said Levein.

“I could see instantly that we had a better shape and better idea of what we were going to do in the last third. He will get some game time on Sunday as well.

“He is back in good condition and I love his enthusiasm and energy. He doesn’t hold back. He will help the team without a doubt in the weeks and months ahead.

“He attracts [opposition] players. That means other good players in our attacking areas get space to play. That’s basically it. You can’t just put one man on him because he can beat somebody easily. You then need a second man or a third man at times. That leaves space.”