Hearts must pick themselves up quickly to confront Hibs after yesterday’s Betfred Cup semi-final loss to Celtic.
The Easter Road club are due in Gorgie on league business on Wednesday night and Hearts are harbouring a sense of frustration about the defeat at BT Murrayfield.
Celtic’s second-half display turned a 0-0 interval scoreline into a convincing 3-0 win in front of a spectacular 61,161 crowd. The Tynecastle striker Steven MacLean is urging his team-mates to use the disappointment to their advantage.
He pinpointed the first goal – a penalty by Scott Sinclair after Oliver Bozanic was judged to have fouled Ryan Christie on 52 minutes – as the moment the match turned.
“I thought it was a good first-half for us but once they scored from the penalty the game changed,” said MacLean. “We lost our shape and probably got caught trying to have a go and they picked us off. It was disappointing but we now need to pick ourselves up.
“You know what? A lot of our boys have never played in a semi-final, in such a big game like that, so this was a good experience for them and they need to use this disappointment to get us back to another semi-final and a final.
“We have two big games, the derby then we go to Celtic, and this is why you want to be involved in. If you aren’t up for these kind of games you shouldn’t be playing. So, roll on Wednesday night. It’s a derby and let’s go and turn them over.”
An even first half gave way to a one-sided affair after the interval. The Hearts hierarchy had fought tenaciously to have this game moved from Hampden Park and would have been dejected at how fortune conspired against them after only eight minutes. They lost the influential Steven Naismith to a knee injury having given him the captain’s armband because club skipper Christophe Berra and his deputy John Souttar are already injured and out until next year.
Hearts held their own until half-time before Celtic increased the pace. The penalty gave Brendan Rodgers’ side the initiative, then came goals from James Forrest and Christie. They ended the afternoon strongly and might have scored more than three.
The Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal pulled off impressive saves from Forrest and Kieran Tierney, and there were goalline clearances from Jimmy Dunne and Michael Smith. However, Zlamal had to admit fault after failing to hold Christie’s shot which led to Forrest netting Celtic’ second. He apologised in the dressing room afterwards.
“Look, he made some outstanding saves and has been brilliant for us this season. He’s a top goalie. I am sure he will be brilliant again,” stressed MacLean, who admitted Naismith’s absence also had an impact.
“It was big loss when Steven went off but that kind of thing does happen in games and when it does you need to move on. We were disappointed for him, and for ourselves as a team, and we’ve had a few injuries this season.
“We need to cope with this one and the rest. He is down. He doesn’t know what’s wrong. It is his knee so he’ll need to get a scan and hopefully he will be back soon.”
MacLean trod a fine line in the first half having been booked by referee Willie Colllum for fouling Michael Lustig in the opening minute. “I thought it was harsh. I looked up to see it on the screen and I never caught him. To be fair to Willie, he said that if he’s got it wrong then sorry. Ach, I get on well with Willie. So, fair enough.”