Hearts-Celtic Scottish Cup final preview: Good news on injury front | left-back conundrum | impressive Hampden record
Hearts will face off against Celtic in the Scottish Cup final this weekend as they look to win their first piece of major silverware since defeating rivals Hibs in the same competition in 2012.
On the face of it, Craig Levein’s men are deserved underdogs. They’ve been in poor form recently, and in 2019 overall, while they’re missing a key individual in forward Steven Naismith, who has failed to recover from knee surgery in time for the match.
Then again, Hearts have played Celtic well in three of the four league meetings this season, winning one and losing the other by a single goal in each game, both of which came late in the contest.
Speaking of the Ladbrokes Premiership champions, while they’ve only lost one game under interim boss Neil Lennon, they haven’t been at their best throughout most of the last three months and have been run close by teams weaker than Hearts.
Then there was the clash between the sides last season, when Hearts were meandering in mid-table and Celtic boasted a 69-game unbeaten run prior to the trip to Tynecastle. Levein’s side were able to rip up the script on that occasion, winning 4-0, and the unpredictable nature of football should give them confidence that anything can happen.
Hearts team news
Hearts boss Craig Levein is confident three key players will be fit to face Celtic. Uche Ikpeazu (hamstring), Peter Haring (groin) and Arnaud Djoum (Achilles) were previously considered serious doubts but have made progress. Callumn Morrison, Aidan Keena, Ben Garuccio, Demetri Mitchell and Steven Naismith are all still out with knee injuries with Olly Lee joining the list after picking up a similar injury at Parkhead.
Possible Hearts line-up
Zlamal; M Smith, Souttar, Berra, Hickey; Clare, Djoum, Cochrane, Haring, Mulraney; Ikpeazu. Subs from: Godinho, Burns, Dikamona, Shaughnessy, Wighton, MacLean, C Smith, Edwards, Petkov, Vanecek, Doyle.
Celtic team news
James Forrest and Kieran Tierney have declared themselves fit for the clash. The Parkhead pair have been rested for the last couple of games with hamstring and hernia issues respectively but will be fit to face the Jambos. Skipper Scott Brown will also be available following a foot injury while Oliver Burke is hopeful he will take some part despite a knee problem. Ryan Christie (face), Jack Hendry, Vakoun Bayo, Dedryck Boyata (all hamstring), Craig Gordon, Eboue Kouassi and Daniel Arzani (all knee) are still out. Leigh Griffiths is back training after dealing with personal issues.
Possible Celtic line-up
Bain; Lustig, Simunovic, Ajer, Tierney; Brown, McGregor, Rogic; Forrest, Edouard, Hayes. Subs from: Toljan, Benkovic, Izaguirre, Ntcham, Bitton, Dembele, Sinclair, Burke, Henderson, Johnston, De Vries.
5 - Hearts have won five of their last seven trips to the national stadium for cup semi-finals or finals. In that time they’ve defeated Hibs, Gretna, Hibs (again), Inverness CT and Saturday’s opponents Celtic. They’ve also lost to Rangers and St Mirren.
Whoever starts at left-back, whether it’s Bobby Burns, Aaron Hickey or Jake Mulraney at left wing-back, they must do their best to stop Forrest having a major influence on the game. The flying winger swept the board at the Player of the Year awards, winning the vote from the players, writers and sponsors. He’s scored 22 goals for club and country this season and could single-handedly cause the Hearts’ rearguard to fold in on itself if allowed to run amok. Keep him quiet and Celtic may just miss that spark, especially as there isn’t a whole lot of direct running in the centre of midfield with Christie absent.
Hearts’ Scottish Cup journey began this season in a match officiated by Willie Collum and it’s going to end with him too. The whistler oversaw the 1-0 win over Livingston, one of eight Jambos games he’s refereed this term. Overall, Hearts have a record of five wins and three defeats in those matches. One of the losses came against Celtic - in the Betfred Cup semi-final back in October.
Hearts 8/1 Draw 4/1 Celtic 1/3 Hearts to lift trophy 9/2 Celtic to lift trophy 1/7
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