JAMIE MacDONALD today admitted that he never wants a repeat of the emotions that he endured in yesterday’s defeat by Celtic.
The Hearts goalkeeper was as shell-shocked as the rest of his team-mates as the Parkhead outfit rattled seven goals past them in the fourth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup, equalling the Jambos’ worst-ever competitive home defeat – the 7-0 drubbing by Hibs on New Year’s Day, 1973.
A Kris Commons hat-trick, a double from Scott Brown and strikes from Joe Ledley and Mikael Lustig did the damage to the Tynecastle side, who were five goals down before the half-time whistle had been blown.
The Hearts players, many of them just teenagers, were clearly devastated as the game was brought to a close by referee Willie Collum and you have to wonder how those young souls will go about picking themselves up in time for their next action, in the Premiership, against Dundee United in less than a week’s time.
But MacDonald also felt for the supporters who had turned out to back them and who had been so hopeful of pulling off a cup shock against the holders.
“First and foremost,” said MacDonald, “I would just like to apologise on behalf of all of the boys for yesterday’s result. It was an embarrassment for us and the boys were all sitting in the changing rooms after the game disappointed in ourselves and disappointed for the fans. It was a bad day at the office – a really bad day at the office.
“It’s probably the most difficult time I’ve ever had in all of my time in football.”
MacDonald is hoping that the Hearts players quickly learn their lessons from the mistakes they made against Celtic and that the memory of how they are feeling right now will make them even more determined to ensure they don’t experience anything like that again.
He continued: “At half-time we were obviously already out of the tie, but it was important to see how the boys were going to react.
“Sometimes you can learn a lot in these kinds of games – and I thought that we did improve slightly in the second half.
“We kept our shape a bit better, but it was still one-way traffic, really. It is something for us to look at over the next few days.
“We are all feeling it right now and we need to make sure that we never feel like that again. We need to go and work on it.”
Hearts had gone into the game on something of a high after taking a step closer to coming out of administration on Friday when creditors and shareholders voted to accept the Foundation of Hearts’ proposal of a £2.5 million CVA, but their optimism was short-lived as there were only two minutes and 20 seconds on the clock when Celtic opened their account.
Commons combined with Ledley before cutting into the box from the left and drilling the ball low into the net beyond MacDonald.
Their second was a mirror-image of their first. This time Commons was on the right-hand side of the box to meet a quick free-kick from Charlie Mulgrew and his finish beat MacDonald on the angle again.
Callum Paterson and Ryan Stevenson had a couple of half-chances soon after, but every time Celtic went up the park it looked like they would add to their tally.
The Hearts defence was all over the place for Celtic’s third goal. Mulgrew and Stokes were both involved before Ledley got a shot in that beat MacDonald, only for it to come back off the keeper’s left-hand post and roll along the line. That wasn’t the end of the danger, though, as it rolled back out and straight into the path of Brown, who was only a yard or two out, and he smashed it into the net.
Ledley then fired home their fourth from Lustig’s cross and some Hearts fans were already heading for the exits when Celtic made it five, this time a looping effort from Lustig thundering into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Hearts brought Brad McKay on at the break to replace David Smith and boss Gary Locke pushed Dylan McGowan further up the park in a bid to shore up their leaky defence.
However, Hearts conceded a penalty in 57 minutes when Danny Wilson was judged to have handled in the box. There’s no doubt it was a soft award, but there was no way Commons was giving up on his chance to score his third of the afternoon and he stepped up to slot home from 12 yards with his left foot.
The best Hearts could come up with was a long-range shot from Jamie Hamill, which had plenty of power behind it but fizzed over Forster’s crossbar.
It was 7-0 in 73 minutes and the goal came despite a fantastic stop from MacDonald. The Hearts goalkeeper got down brilliantly to his right to touch a Teemu Pukki effort away, but the ball rebounded back out into play and when it landed at the feet of Brown, the Celtic skipper lashed it into the back of the net.
Hearts’ next game in against Dundee United, who have scored quite freely in recent weeks, and MacDonald insisted that his side must now switch their focus to bouncing back from their cup exit.
“This is going to happen at some point in your career,” MacDonald added, “and, if anything, it could be character-building for the boys.
“We have had a few defeats this year where we have lost by the odd goal or a goal in the last few minutes, but this is a different kettle of fish. Hopefully we can take it all on board and learn from our mistakes. We need to take something from the game and hopefully we will be much improved in time for our next match.”
If there was some crumb of comfort for the Hearts supporters, it would have been the fact that Celtic, on that kind of form, would have put a few past any Premiership side and MacDonald conceded: “I don’t think that we did ourselves any favours at the first couple of goals.
“We were one down within a couple of minutes and that is a cardinal sin against a team like Celtic.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Celtic, they were phenomenal at times and they played some great football. No matter who they were playing they would have given them a bit of a doing.”
Celtic’s hat-trick hero Commons reckoned that the pace, movement and precision that his side showed throughout left Hearts not knowing what had hit them and Hoops boss Neil Lennon said that he thought the performance was the best that he has seen in his time at the club. Commons echoed those sentiments, agreeing that they could even have added a few more goals to their tally.
“I thought that we were outstanding in the first half and every time we went up the pitch we looked like scoring,” he said. “It was good that the goals were spread throughout the team and that we are not just relying on the strikers. That was a massive plus for us. We could easily have had a few more goals in the end.
“I don’t think that Hearts really knew what had hit them. The movement and the pace that we showed to get in behind them was outstanding.”