A midweek trip to Dundee wouldn’t ordinarily be viewed by Hearts as ideal preparation for a League Cup semi-final against Celtic, especially just a few days after a physically-demanding win over Aberdeen.
Had they drawn or lost against the league’s bottom side, it would have been viewed as a setback, a huge opportunity missed to open up a six-point lead at the top of the Premiership. However, this visit to Dens Park couldn’t have gone any more swimmingly for Hearts as they eased to victory without ever having to hit top gear.
Two goals in the opening 14 minutes meant there was no real drama for Craig Levein’s team to contend with, aside from Calvin Miller’s missed penalty, and the third goal early in the second half allowed them to see out the match in comfort, with the stuffing knocked out of Dundee.
Instead of an energy-sapping grind, this became a morale-boosting stroll which merely added to the feelgood factor in the Hearts camp. While regular starter Olly Lee was only used as a late sub, Levein was also afforded the luxury of getting key players like Steven Naismith and Demetri Mitchell off early in order to preserve them for Sunday.
On the other side of the coin, players like Clevid Dikamona and Olly Bozanic, who haven’t featured so much, were given the chance to get another 90 minutes into their legs in the likely event that they will be required to start at Murrayfield on Sunday. Hearts now have the relative luxury of four full days to prepare for the semi-final, while Celtic will have what promises to be a gruelling Europa League assignment away to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig on Thursday night.
Regardless of how Brendan Rodgers’ side get on in Germany, Hearts, backed by almost 30,000 supporters and buoyed by a six-point advantage at the top of the league (albeit Kilmarnock could chop it to three on Saturday), could hardly be heading to Murrayfield in a better frame of mind.