Talking point: Hearts now must pull together for one final push

What a difference a week makes.

Saturday, 13th April 2019, 4:11 pm
Updated Saturday, 13th April 2019, 4:19 pm
John Souttar is mobbed by his team-mates after scoring Hearts' second goal. Pic: SNS

Smiling and full of the joys of spring, Hearts manager Craig Levein was in a buoyant mood as he addressed the media in the wake of Hearts' 3-0 win over Inverness that booked their place in next month's William Hill Scottish Cup final.

Rewind to a week ago and Levein was crestfallen, having just witnessed his side lose the Edinburgh derby on home soil. Saturday's second-half masterclass illuminated by goals from Uche Ikpeazu, John Souttar and Sean Clare eradicated the hurt of that result. Hearts are now only one win away from lifting the Scottish Cup.

Levein doesn't mind who prevails in Sunday's other semi. When asked who he would prefer out of Aberdeen or Celtic, it was a shrug of the shoulders and a smile. As far as he's concerned, he's just glad to book a return date to Hampden Park.

Sign up to our Hearts newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

And, for the remainder of the season, that's the attitude everyone associated with Hearts should have. This season has been so topsy-turvy, with immense early season form and feelgood factor undermined by injuries and underwhelming performances. For the December derby victory over Hibs and the August triumph over Celtic, there's a 5-0 hammering by Livingston and a 2-1 home defeat by Dundee. Players have shone and been slaughtered in equal measure. Levein has been lauded and lambasted. It's been a rollercoaster.

The week leading up to this match against Inverness was kicked off by questions over Levein's future and then moved on to the closure of part of Hearts stadium for fan disorder. The noise going on in the background will have made it hard for Hearts in the build-up to the clash with Inverness. Yes, they were heavy favourites against the Championship outfit, but better teams than this current Gorgie outfit have slipped up in such fixtures. They deserve credit for navigating it smoothly.

Now is the time for Hearts to come together. A Scottish Cup final is on the horizon. It's not arithmetically impossible for Hearts to surge into Premiership Europa League places, but it seems fanciful considering they are eight points adrift of Aberdeen in third. The cup is their best shot at continental competition later this year, aside from all the other glory lifting the trophy would bring.

Five post-split matches remain for the Jambos. There's a derby at Easter Road, the visits of Rangers and Kilmarnock plus a final-day trip to Celtic. All tough matches, but all perfect prep for the final.

Hearts should not be scared of either potential foe. After all, they've beaten both this season and Celtic don't quite have the aura of invincibility they did earlier in the year under Brendan Rodgers. Hearts would be underdogs regardless of which team joins them in the final, but would still have a live chance.

The club - and I include the fanbase in this - must not undermine their chances. Players need to hit top gear, Levein will have to find his best team - even considering injuries, the starting XI changes most weeks - and supporters have to get behind those on the field. Calling for Levein's head really ought to be left for another day. I can't see it assisting matters.

A few years ago, Hearts were dancing with death. Financial ruin was so close. Not so long ago, they were in the Championship. They have been in worse places than sixth in the league, even if that finishing place is beneath the standard expected. The debate over Levein needs quelled - temporarily at the very least - as Hearts stand on the brink of major success, the coup de grace for the recent renaissance as a club. Don't forget that they have made two semi-finals for the first time in 14 years. That's an achievement in itself. The manager merits huge credit for that.

On May 25, however, they can go one better. This season can still end with the most almighty of bangs.