Craig Levein paid tribute to his Hearts team after they banished last weekend’s horror show against Ross County with a well-deserved Betfred Cup triumph over Motherwell.
Goals late in the first half from Northern Irish pair Michael Smith and Conor Washington were enough secure a 2-1 win and become the first team to progress to the last eight.
The victory also eased the pressure on the manager and his players at the end of a week in which they had been heavily criticised. “The most pleasing thing was that we were a helluva lot better than last week,” said Levein. “I just can’t explain what happened last week but it did give us an opportunity to talk about what’s expected of a player coming to Hearts and the performance that’s required. The players themselves were embarrassed by last week and I was embarrassed with my performance. The good thing was that there was a determination in the training all week and I had a good feeling going into the match that we would put on a really good show.
“We had calmness about our play and Motherwell caused us very few problems. We saw the game out quite comfortably. All in all, it was a good performance. I could go through the whole team but our defence was really good.
“Christophe Berra and Craig Halkett were imperious. Michael Smith had tonsilitis and wasn’t going to play, and young Aaron Hickey was outstanding. It was good to see them back to what I know they can do.”
The only negative for Levein was a first-half ankle injury sustained by Jamie Walker, which continued a wretched run of early-season fitness woe for Hearts.
“That’s John Souttar had to come off against Aberdeen, Steven Naismith had to come off on Saturday against Ross County and Walker has now had to come off, all with injuries, which is very frustrating because they are good players and you are suddenly a sub down before you do anything tactically. Jamie has damaged his ankle, there is contact and there’s a twist. I don’t know how bad it is - we need to wait until tomorrow. I thought he was really good at the start of the game and that’s the frustrating thing because I see him gradually coming back to what I know he can do and he looked really incisive. His general play was excellent and him being injured makes me frustrated.”