Talking point: Is a Scottish Cup final return on the cards for Hearts?
Almost as soon as the booing had subsided following an exasperating second-half performance from Hearts at Firhill, the Tynecastle support were given a timely pick-me-up as they learned that they have a favourable route to the Scottish Cup final.
Craig Levein’s team have been been paired with the lowest-ranked team in the tournament in each of the past two rounds (Auchinleck Talbot and Partick Thistle), and this trend continued when the draw for the semi-final saw the winner of the Jambos’ replay with the Jags next Tuesday pitted against Inverness Caledonian Thistle of the Scottish Championship. The fact they have avoided Celtic and Aberdeen or Rangers - the three top teams in the country - should give both Hearts and Thistle huge incentive for next week’s showdown in Gorgie.
There will be plenty cynics in the Hearts support who, perhaps understandably in light of their recent underwhelming form, won’t trust their team to capitalise on this stroke of fortune in being handed the prospect of reaching their first final in six years by defeating two Championship teams. But there is no escaping the fact that most fans will be feeling a lot more optimistic than if - as was the case when they reached the Betfred Cup semi-final earlier in the season - they were pitted against treble-treble-chasing Celtic.
For all that the second-half display at Firhill was demoralising for the large travelling support, the reality is that, had they been slightly more ruthless in front of goal, Hearts would have coasted into the semi-final. In the first 45 minutes, they were so superior to Thistle that they were almost able to treat it as a training match, which was probably to their detriment as it meant they were rocked on their heels when the hosts eventually emerged from their slumber and started to make a game of it after the break.
Having been given a fright by the Jags in the second half, and roundly booed by their supporters at full-time, Hearts are unlikely to allow complacency to creep in next Tuesday. If they approach next week’s match on home soil the way they started this one, they should be too strong for Thistle.
This would then lead the Tynecastle side to an intriguing semi-final showdown against Inverness, managed by one of the most legendary figures in Hearts’ history, John Robertson. Hearts would be hot favourites to progress to the final, although their record at Hampden against sides they were expected to defeat hasn’t been particularly impressive over the past few decades. They were beaten twice in Scottish Cup semi-finals by Airdrie in the 1990s, they required penalties to defeat Gretna, of the old Second Division, in the 2006 Scottish Cup final and they lost to St Mirren in the 2013 League Cup final. They also fell at the hands of Inverness in a League Cup semi-final at Easter Road five years ago.
While there is no chance of any Hearts supporter taking a place in the final for granted given their history and their current form, the bottom line is that this is a golden chance to ensure they are involved in the country’s showpiece match for the first time since 2012.