Michael Smith returns to the scene of his worst night in football this afternoon. The Tony Macaroni Arena, nicknamed The Spaghettihad, witnessed Hearts being eaten alive in a humiliating 5-0 defeat by Livingston last December. He would probably prefer to forget but Smith remembers it only too well.
A red card for Arnaud Djoum, a shocking capitulation and a cancelled Christmas trip to Prague summed up a miserable Friday evening for the Edinburgh club. They haven’t been back to West Lothian since. Today they return looking to prove a point and leave with three. If nothing else, last year’s experience will exemplify the danger posed by Gary Holt’s Livingston side.
“It was one of our darkest days as a team and I think it was my darkest day in football. It was a terrible night for us,” recalled Smith. “We didn’t play well at all and just collapsed. I wouldn’t say we owe them one but we’ll certainly be remembering that scoreline when we go there today.
“We owe it to ourselves to go there and compete a lot better, and we owe the fans a better performance than the last time. Hopefully they will come in their numbers and we can put on a show for them.
“We collapsed and we hid last year. Once they scored and Arnaud was sent off, from that point it was like The Alamo. We just couldn’t get out and couldn’t seem to do anything about it. Maybe we should have tried to keep the score down and get out of there with a 2-0.
“However, it happened and, although I wouldn’t say we are better for it, you remember results like that and it stands you in good stead for other performances.”
The Hearts’ players’ immediate response was to cancel a sojourn to the Czech Republic, where they had planned a squad celebration for Christmas. “We had a meeting on the bus straight after the game,” explained Smith. “We said: ‘There’s no way we can go after that!’
“It would have looked bad and we wanted to get some extra training in. It was an easy decision to make. I wouldn’t have been in the right mood to go away and have a fun weekend after that defeat.
“There’s definitely no chance we’ll underestimate this now. I was saying to Whelo [Glenn Whelan] on Thursday that this will be one of the toughest games he’s had in Scotland – if not the toughest.”
Confidence within Hearts’ camp is better, especially after an encouraging 1-1 draw with Rangers last Sunday. “Most folk before the game would have taken a draw, so we’ll move into this weekend high on confidence,” said Smith.