Winning the Scottish Cup takes belief, desire, talent, grit and a slice of luck. Having lifted the famous trophy with St Johnstone five years ago, Steven MacLean insists Hearts have the wherewithal to help him earn a second winner’s medal.
MacLean scored in the 2014 final for his former club against Dundee United to claim the first major honour of his career. After transferring to Hearts last summer, and scoring in Sunday’s 4-0 fifth-round win against Auchinleck Talbot, the veteran striker feels more silverware is attainable this season.
Hearts were last night drawn away against Partick in the quarter-finals. Speaking before the draw had been made, MacLean explained why he is confident the Edinburgh club can go all the way to a showpiece day out at Hampden Park in May.
“Yes, 100 per cent. We got to the semi of the League Cup, albeit we didn’t have a great performance against Celtic. We’ve got it in that dressing room,” he said.
“We have good players so there’s no reason we can’t get to the final. You need a wee bit of luck and then a wee bit of luck when you play the bigger teams. Celtic are going to be big favourites but we fancy anybody. When you get to the semi or the final, then you just never know.
“When the next round comes, hopefully we will be nice and healthy and take our chance to get through.”
Scoring against Auchinleck helped MacLean remind the Hearts manager Craig Levein that he still has plenty to contribute to this season’s campaign. The 36-year-old was an unused substitute in recent Premiership games against St Johnstone and Kilmarnock, and then found himself left out of the 18-man squad altogether against Livingston nine days ago.
MacLean is fully aware that the attacking competition within the playing staff makes Levein the envy of most managers across the country. Nonetheless, the forward isn’t keen to spend too many afternoons kicking his heels on the bench. Or, even worse, in the stand.
“It was nice to be back playing as it’s been a wee while,” he said. “It was good to be back involved and the most important thing was we got the result against Auchinleck. It could have been sticky but we got a good start.”
Christophe Berra’s header gave Hearts an early cushion after only ten minutes. Demetri Mitchell then doubled the advantage with a low finish from the edge of the penalty area on the half-hour mark. The Manchester United loanee turned provider eight minutes later with a low, right-footed cross for MacLean to tap home from close range. Teenage striker Aidan Keena then produced the goal of the game to round off the scoring at four on 86 minutes – and celebrating his first act of net-bulging in the Hearts first team.
“It was just about getting to the next round,” emphasised MacLean. “I thought we were good at times and we were sloppy at times in the second half. However, we’re through and looking forward to the next round.”
There is justification for the confidence as key player after key player returns from injury. After Berra, Steven Naismith and John Souttar recovered from lengthy absences, the latest to reappear is the imposing English striker Uche Ikpeazu.
They have all reinforced Levein’s squad which has recorded six wins in the last eight matches in all competitions, sparking hope amongst fans that Hearts can challenge for the league and Scottish Cup between now and the season’s end.
Ikpeazu’s restoration to full fitness gives MacLean an even more difficult fight for game time, but the veteran makes no complaints about the situation. He had an idea it would be like this when signing a two-year contract with the Tynecastle club. As he has done to good effect throughout his career, he will simply battle on and use his experience in the hope of playing as regularly as possible.
“You can see we’re getting people back and it’s bringing competition for places. We have a decent-sized squad now and, if you aren’t doing your job, you’re going to be out of the side,” he admitted.
“There are boys waiting to come in which will keep everybody on their toes.
“It’s important when you get a chance that you try to take it. I’m sure that, whatever way the gaffer plays, he’s going to have plenty options anyway. Big Uche being back brings a different dimension for us. We can play in different ways.”
Ikpeazu and MacLean started together up front on Sunday, with Naismith used in a deeper role supporting the front two. It was Ikpeazu’s first appearance in a Hearts starting line-up since last October but he looked fit and motivated as Talbot defenders bounced off him right, left and centre.
“It’s good playing with Uche,” continued MacLean. “I’ve got a great relationship with the big guy as well. He’s a big gentle giant. I don’t think he’s like that to play against right enough, but I love the big guy. He’s such an infectious character.
“He just wants to learn from people and do well. You talk to him and he always wants to listen to you. He will practice things and do things. He’s just a great big kid.
“When he plays, he can drop in or you can go a bit longer into him. He attracts people to the ball and that gives other players space. It probably gives me and Naisy space when he is on the pitch. Hopefully we can get back to our early-season form with the big man back in the team. The free-flowing football can maybe start coming so we can start looking up the table to catch teams above us.”
Using the phrase “big lumps” in relation to Hearts players is dangerous after the words of Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke earlier this month. However, MacLean uses the term affectionately to point out that Ikpeazu is rather more than just brute strength.
“He’s got a bit about him. He isn’t just a big lump, he has a good touch and he’s very good one-against-one when he’s taking players on. He’s more than just a big lump.”