Craig Levein insists Hearts players gave him food for thought ahead of the Scottish Cup final despite last night’s 2-1 defeat by Aberdeen.
The Edinburgh club are now without a win in six league matches, however manager Levein was encouraged by the performance at Pittodrie. Teenager Bobby Burns scored his first Hearts goal to equalise in between Lewis Ferguson’s opener and Greg Stewart’s well-taken winner for Aberdeen. Levein made six changes to his team and left out regulars Uche Ikpeazu, Peter Haring, John Souttar, Michael Smith, Arnaud Djoum and Jake Mulraney.
He handed 16-year-old full-back Aaron Hickey a professional debut as a second-half substitute and stressed others staked a claim for a cup final place. He was frustrated by the result as he believed there was little between the teams on the night. “These games against Aberdeen have been the same every time we have played, which is a tight, competitive and sometimes scrappy. This one followed exactly the same pattern,” said Levein.
“Ironically I thought we were having our best spell when Aberdeen got their winner and that was the annoying part for me.
“There was loads of effort and desire from players trying to prove they should be in the cup final squad, which is what I was hoping for.
“It was a decent performance without Uche Ikpeazu, Arnaud Djoum, John Souttar and Michael Smith who are key players for us as well. We just ended up on the wrong end of the scoreline. I got a lot of things I was pleased with.
“My face just doesn’t say that because we didn’t get anything from the game.”
A late penalty appeal by Hearts striker Steven MacLean was refused by referee Bobby Madden. MacLean was fouled by the Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis after touching the ball past him, but Madden judged the infringement to be outside the penalty area.
Levein felt Lewis deserved a red card despite Madden brandishing a yellow.
“At the time, my first concern was whether it was in the penalty box or not and from where I was I didn’t think it was,” he explained. “Bobby was closer than me and I think the line was Steven had pushed the ball too wide. Having seen it, it’s a red card all day long because in two strides he is slipping the ball into the net. [Scott] McKenna can’t get across.
“So I think it should have been a red card but I don’t want to make this about that situation because I don’t think that had any impact on the match.”
The Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was delighted with three important points to continue his club’s quest for European football. The win took them three ahead of Kilmarnock as the fight for third in the Premiership, which guarantees a Europa League spot, rages on. Killie face Hibs this afternoon.
“It was absolutely vital – an important three points,” said McInnes. “I said prior to the game, we’ve got work to do to win the next two games. There wasn’t a lot in the first half and big Joe Lewis has had a couple of saves to make. He deserves credit for playing on [despite a knee injury] and played his part helping us get a win.”
Regarding Stewart, the on-loan Birmingham City forward, McInnes added: “Greg has been trying to play his part and he’s desperate to be fit. He’s a good player and plenty of clubs I’m sure are interested in him.
“We need a good week’s work next week to try to beat a very good Hibs team in form.
“We’ve got plenty to do and the likes of Greg and others - who may not be here next season - still have a responsibility to get the club into Europe.”