Sean Clare waited four months for some jubilation in a maroon shirt. When Hearts needed a moment of quality, he produced it to nudge them into the Scottish Cup fifth round. Now comes a home tie against the giant-killing juniors of Auchinleck Talbot – who were beaten by Hearts en route to their famous 2012 Scottish Cup final win against Hibs.
Yesterday’s sublime finish from new signing David Vanecek’s lay-off showed Hearts supporters Clare’s true capabilities as he converted the winning goal against Livingston. He arrived in September as a free agent after leaving Sheffield Wednesday but has taken time to find fitness and form in Scotland. Thanks to him, one of the Edinburgh club’s most vexing opponents this season were dispensed with in a tense and competitive encounter at Tynecastle Park.
Nobody needed reminding that Livingston had beaten Hearts 5-0 just a few weeks previously in a league fixture in West Lothian. Clare’s controlled effort early in the second half represented revenge. “We’re just happy to get through. Cup games are always just about winning,” admitted the Hearts coach Jon Daly afterwards.
“The task before the game was to make sure we were in the hat, to give ourselves a chance of getting one step closer to a cup final. Livingston keep you honest. They make you fight for 90-plus minutes and they’re a credit to themselves.
“They made us work hard. I don’t think we helped ourselves in the first half, we didn’t move the ball quickly enough. Our passing wasn’t great, our decision-making was poor, but in the second half we were a bit better.
“In the last five to ten minutes tactics go out of the window. They start throwing bodies forward and we needed to defend well, which I thought we did. We’re just very pleased to be in the hat.”
Clare would have felt relieved at full-time, not to mention happy with his important contribution. “I don’t think the jury’s out in terms of ourselves, we believe in him and know the qualities he has,” insisted Daly. “He’s a young player and he is still learning the game.
“Does he need to do more at times? Yes he does, but he is still getting used to Scottish football and the club. I think it’s important we stick by him and give us opportunities so he can repay us like this.”
It is merely coincidence that the draw for the next round of the Scottish Cup, made seconds after the final whistle at Tynecastle, pits Hearts against Auchinleck. They knocked Ayrshire neighbours Ayr United out of the tournament on Saturday with the greatest result in their history.
They also lost 1-0 in Gorgie in January 2012, when Gordon Smith’s late winner started Hearts’ path to a 5-1 victory in the final at Hampden Park. “It’s a home tie, which you always want. They’re the lowest ranked team in the competition so it’s a good draw and we’re happy,” said Daly.
“However, we need to go and beat them. We can’t just think we’re through to the next round because football is not played on paper, it’s played on grass. We need to make sure we turn up and not give them any hope. I know the year we won the cup we beat them so hopefully that’s an omen. But we won’t look too much into that.”
The Livingston manager Gary Holt declared himself satisfied with his players’ endeavour at a difficult venue. “I thought we stood up to the test well and competed well but we didn’t have the quality in the final third - taking care of the final pass and shooting on target,” he said.
“We didn’t get a lucky break. Alan [Lithgow] had one shot and Ryan [Hardie] had a header from a corner. Maybe we lost a bit of sharpness after three weeks off. Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve in football I think it was tough on the boys to come away with nothing. I don’t think there was too much in the game.”
Holt complimented Clare on the quality of his first-time conversion. “It was a good finish. I didn’t think the boy was going to hit it and Liam Kelly didn’t think so either. In truth, I don’t think Liam would have got to it anyway because it was a really good finish.
“I’m disappointed we lost the ball in our half and there are areas we want to improve, but it was a good strike for his first goal for the club. That wee five or ten minute spell after half-time was maybe our worst in the game and you can’t afford that at this level.
“I’m delighted how the players performed and worked. It was a good cup-tie, not one where teams went through the motions. Both sides tried to win it and on another day we could have had luck.”