National cup quarter-final, second division side against top-flight heavyweights, massive upset on the cards.
A year ago, Hearts midfielder Peter Haring and his SV Ried team-mates were causing it in Vienna’s Allianz Stadion, 1-0 up against the mighty Rapid with 15 minutes left in the Austrian Cup last eight.
Two goals in two minutes ended their dream of a historic triumph against one of the country’s most illustrious clubs. They created enough of a stir for Haring to take a valuable warning with him to Firhill this evening, though.
Hearts visit Partick Thistle in a William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final which pits fifth in the Premiership against bottom of the Championship. Haring is aware of the inspiration drawn by second-tier teams against bigger opponents. Last year, he was in the second-tier team seeking to execute that cup shock.
“It was a tight game. We were 1-0 up for a long time,” he recalled in an exclusive Evening News interview. “We conceded two goals quickly and lost 2-1 but we should have been 2-0 or 3-0 ahead. We had lots of chances to score more goals. We were the better team but we missed huge chances, especially in the second half. If you play a big team and you don’t score from your chances, they beat you. That always happens.”
He played centre-back at Ried and moved into midfield after joining Hearts last summer. “I was in defence. The first goal we lost was a penalty to make it 1-1. Two minutes later, they were putting pressure on us and putting crosses into the box. One of the crosses was deflected by one of our players, the ball spun really high and I lost the header. That made it 2-1 to Rapid.
“It was a nice game and a nice experience. I was playing Rapid Vienna at their stadium for the first time, but we lost and we were very unlucky. It was quite a similar situation. If you are in the second division and you play a big club, it’s always a big motivation for the smaller team.”
Ried were away to a team from a higher league, but Thistle have the advantage of hosting Hearts on their own territory in front of the BBC Scotland television cameras tonight.
Thistle’s danger is obvious in a tie where they have absolutely nothing to lose. Manager Gary Caldwell has assembled an experienced core and Haring knows from experience the threat lower-league teams can offer in knockout tournaments.
“When you play at home against a bigger club, there is some extra motivation,” he said. “It often happens that the smaller team are doing really well. We have to be aware of that and just focus on ourselves. We need to be right there from the first minute, as we did on Wednesday against Celtic. Then we will win.”
That midweek league fixture saw Haring play his first 90 minutes since December 22 at Aberdeen. A double hernia forced him to have surgery at New Year and he returned to Hearts’ starting line-up against St Mirren nine days ago.
“I played 70 minutes against St Mirren and then the full 90 against Celtic. I was tired at the end on Wednesday. You have to do extra work against Celtic, especially when you have ten men for a full half,” he said.
“I am looking forward to this game. It is a big chance for us to reach the semi-finals. Anything is possible but when you reach the semis there is not a long way to go to win the thing. It won’t be an easy game but we are positive.
“We played second division teams in the Betfred Cup this season and it was never easy, home or away, so we know what to expect. It’s a cup quarter-final and the only things that matter is to win – not how you win.”
The target for Hearts has always been to reach the qualifying rounds of the Europa League and try to lift one of the two major cups. That ambition was used as a selling point to many of the 18 players recruited by manager Craig Levein last summer.
“That was the message the coaches gave me when I first met them at Oriam,” revealed Haring. “I talked to Craig Levein and Austin MacPhee. They told me: ‘Our target is to qualify for Europe and there is a chance to win trophies.’ It was an extra attraction to play for a club like Hearts.”
Many team-mates are in a similar situation to him: Guys in their 20s who have never won a major honour or competed in European competition. They are all determined to see this opportunity through.
“The fact lots of players haven’t won a trophy or played in Europe before makes us hungry to achieve that even more,” explained the Austrian. “There is a different motivation if you have already played in Europe and you want to do it again. I don’t know how it feels but, for me, I have never been there.
“I absolutely want to play in Europe, have that experience, travel around the continent playing foreign teams. That’s what I want to achieve with Hearts. All the other boys want it as well. It’s a different motivation when you have never experienced that.”
Hearts have ten games to play in the Ladbrokes Premiership and are battling to reach the top three to guarantee a Europa League slot. However, they are potentially just three matches from Europe via the Scottish Cup.
“That’s why Monday is important. If we win, we are in the semi-finals and then anything is possible. The semi-finals are at Hampden and, once you get to Hampden, you want to win the trophy,” said Haring.