5 things Hearts have to do to beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup final

Hearts go into the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Celtic as underdogs. Joel Sked looks at how Craig Levein's men can win.

Friday, 24th May 2019, 16:04 pm
Can Craig Levein get the better of Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

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Following matches where Celtic have dropped points or simply fallen below their high standards, interim boss Neil Lennon has bemoaned fatigue, physical and mental. The Scottish Cup final will be the club's 63rd game this season, following on from 61 and 59 matches the previous two campaigns.

Can Craig Levein get the better of Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

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This is a squad who have played a lot of football over the last three seasons, many of the individuals who will feature at Hampden Park will have played the majority of those games.

The final will be Hearts' 51st game of the term, and in comparison with their opponents, many of the players don't have a lot of minutes in their legs.

Fast starts and high-tempo performances have been conspicuous by their absence this season in Gorgie. Despite injury issues, team should have the dynamism to get off to a quick start and make it very difficult for Celtic.

This is not to say go gung-ho. No, instead Hearts should hunt Celtic in packs. Wait for the ball to come into the middle area of the Hampden pitch and spring, making it difficult for the opposition to turn.

When the ball is won, Levein's men need to be direct and quick, both in terms of decision making and in the transition, getting team-mates close to Uche Ikpeazu to swarm.

Mulraney v Lustig

The Irishman has come to the fore in recent weeks and months, becoming more of a threat, netting his first goal for the club against Celtic last week.

It is likely he will be played high up on the left, either in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. That means he will go up against Mikael Lustig, The Swede is expected to overcome injury doubts and could play his final game for the club.

If he doesn't make it then it will likely see Jeremy Toljan fill in. Either way, right-back is Celtic's major weak point.

Lustig is continuing to creak and becoming increasingly rash which plays into Mulraney's hands with his speed and dribbling, especially if he gets him one on one.

On the other hand, Toljan may be a Borussia Dortmund player but he doesn't look like one and has frustrated Celtic fans this season.

Mulraney can appear to lack confidence when it comes to running at full-backs. He needs to have it drummed into him that when he gets the ball he attacks, getting Hearts up the pitch and Celtic on the back foot.

Machiavellian MacPhee

Olly Lee's injury is a bigger deal than appears on the surface. After a positive start to his Hearts career the Englishman has tailed off somewhat.

Yet. he creates goals due to his set piece delivery. It has been a while since Hearts have had a really effective set piece taker and Lee is just that, fitting into Austin MacPhee's routines.

Two of the goals against Inverness CT in the semi final came from his corners, the 27-year-old into double figures for assists in all competitions.

With Steven Naismith out and a lack of creativity in the middle of the pitch set pieces take on greater importance.

Levein will have known for a few days that Lee would not make the match which means that training ground work on set pieces will have been upped.

Now we wait and see what the Machiavellian MacPhee has up his sleeve because simply tossing it in the box will unlikely deliver the rewards,


Callum McGregor. One of the three most talented players in Scotland. James Forrest may have won the awards, Kieran Tierney may get a Premier League move and Scott Brown may be the leader, but it is McGregor who is the team's heart.

When he plays well Celtic play well. He can set the tempo, he can carry the ball like a quarterback who has decided to go it alone and he can score in those big moments.

If Hearts can stop him they can debilitate their opponents.

Aberdeen have had some joy in disrupting Celtic with a man-marking approach. Putting the combative Arnaud Djoum up against McGregor could see the Jam Tarts stifle and frustrate Celtic, stopping them gaining any momentum.

Defensive masterclass

In the final 15 matches of the Scottish Premiership season Hearts kept two clean sheets. The team as a collective in the defensive third have been a long way from the team which kept seven consecutive shutouts during last campaign.

John Souttar has been slightly shaky of late, while Christophe Berra has not got back to his level since being taken off against Celtic at the start of this term and missing a fair chunk.

Individually and defensively they will have to rediscover that solidity and robustness.

More responsibility falls on Berra's shoulder with either 16-year-old Aaron Hickey or 19-year-old Bobby Burns set to play left-back.

It isn't just down to the rearguard. Forrest and Scott Sinclair, if he plays, will make movements infield, starting wide. Then there is the intelligence of Tom Rogic, so capable of turning and scoring from distance.

Cutting off the supply or simply keeping compact to minimise the space between the midfield and defensive lines will fall heavily on Peter Haring and Djoum.