No-one relished the feeling of Hearts clicking into gear on Wednesday more than their new Austrian recruit, Peter Haring. The chance to reach the Betfred Cup knockout stage remains alive and he is determined to help beat Inverness and secure progress.
Haring headed his first goal in maroon on his home debut and proved himself a capable midfielder despite arriving as a defender. He thrived in the 5-0 win against ten-man Cowdenbeath, with all five goals coming in a second-half onslaught, although a sterner test awaits on Sunday.
John Robertson’s Inverness are Group C leaders with three wins from three games heading to Tynecastle Park. Despite losing two points for fielding an ineligible player, a win guarantees Hearts will advance as group leaders. Anything less leaves them second and hoping they have amassed sufficient points and goal difference to go through as one of the four best second-placed teams from the Betfred Cup’s eight groups. It is certain to be an intriguing afternoon.
Haring, whose cup exploits in Austria were nothing special by his own admission, gives the impression he is enjoying the intensity of the situation he has been thrust into. He doesn’t mind the crash-course introduction to Scottish football after leaving the Austrian second division club, SV Ried, to broaden his horizons.
“Last year we got to the cup quarter-finals in Austria but I have never played in a cup final,” said the 25-year-old.
“Last year I had to deal with pressure as well. We had to get promoted and win every game. We didn’t do that, so I think I can deal with pressure. Of course, this is a bigger club – the crowd is bigger and everything is bigger here. Football is the same everywhere, though. If you play for a club that wants to win and wants to lift trophies, it’s all the same.”
Ried supporters craved success so Haring is well versed with public demands. It helped prepare him for his new environment at Hearts. “I think it did. There were some little troubles as well [at Ried], like everywhere else. If the fans aren’t comfortable with the team, they are always angry. The players were angry as well. It was just normal, nothing special. I was glad to play for this club last year because it’s a club with a big tradition in Austria so I was happy for the experience.
“It is definitely better to have that. I want to play for a club with tradition. Playing in front of big audiences is much more fun. That’s what a football player wants to do – play in a big stadiums, in front of a big audience, and enjoy football.”
He certainly seemed to enjoy himself in midweek. Hearts were slightly ponderous on the ball in the first half but raised the tempo and blew Cowdenbeath away after the interval. Haring’s header from Anthony McDonald’s corner put them 3-0 ahead and gave the player his first taste of Tynecastle adulation.
“It was a good feeling because I knew I missed a couple of chances in the last few games. I also missed two chances on Wednesday so it was time to score. I was pretty happy with the goal. I try to score with my head, especially from set-pieces. I try to be dangerous. I’m happy I did it.”
One of the more surprising sights on the night was Haring lining up in a central midfield role. It could be argued that tactic helps him use his goal threat better over the course of a 90-minute match. He looks especially effective in the air.
At Ried he was predominantly a central defender and Hearts signed him mainly to play in that position. However, the final half hour of last week’s Betfred Cup draw against Raith Rovers saw him thrust forward into that midfield slot. He seemed comfortable and was kept there by manager Craig Levein for Wednesday’s assignment.
Haring revealed that midfield is nothing new, for he played there for many years in his homeland. He is content to play wherever the Hearts management team deploy him. Levein is known to favour a dominant holding midfield player – hence last season’s loan acquisition of Joaquim Adao from FC Sion – so it is possible Haring will stay in the middle of the field.
“I play wherever I have to play,” he stressed. “I played a couple of games at centre-back for Hearts, then I moved to central midfield for the last 30 minutes against Raith. I played as a central midfielder against Cowdenbeath.
“It is not new. I always played as a central midfielder then, for the last two or three years, I went back and played as a centre-back. Last year, I only played as a centre-back. I don’t really care too much. It was a little bit surprising to play there but I knew on Monday it might happen.”
He would probably play in goal if it helped Hearts reach the Betfred Cup’s last 16. There are no grey areas heading into Sunday’s fixture against opponents from the Championship. Victory is the target. Achieve it and a place in the next round is safe.
Inverness carry the same goal difference as Hearts [plus six] ahead of the game. A home win puts the Edinburgh club ahead on goal difference and head-to-head meetings, although their record league goalscorer Robertson will be plotting to spring a surprise at the ground he adored for so many years.
“With a win over Inverness we will be in first place and through to the knockout stage. We know what we have to do,” said Haring, adding that the chance to reach the latter stages of cup tournaments and challenge for silverware was one of the principal reasons he agreed to join Hearts.
“With a club like Hearts, you have a chance to win trophies. We are trying to get as far as possible in every competition we can.”
Haring looks and sounds ready. He came to Scotland to experience high-octane fixtures and he is certain to get one this weekend in only his fourth competitive Hearts appearance.