Here are three Hearts-related observations from today’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic at Murrayfield.
Zdenek Zlamal is fallible after all
Zdenek Zlamal has had a near-perfect start to his Hearts career and has rightly had plenty praise for his contribution since arriving in the summer. There is never a good time for a goalkeeper to make a goal-costing error but the Czech will be devastated that his first one in Scotland materialised in his team’s biggest game of the season, in front of 61,000 people and a nationwide television audience. Zlamal should have gathered Ryan Christie’s tame shot from the edge of the box but fumbled it into the path of James Forrest, who gleefully fired in Celtic’s second goal. Zlamal somewho pulled himself together to make a couple of excellent late saves but by then the damage was done.
Hearts appear to be jinxed
After losing captain Christophe Berra, deputy captain John Souttar and main striker Uche Ikpeazu to long-term injury and then learning that Peter Haring, another of their most influential players, was suffering from a hernia, the one saving grace for Hearts over the past few weeks has been that Steven Naismith, their talisman, remained in his pomp. The one player most felt they could ill afford to lose if they were to maintain their strong start, however, was stopped in his tracks when he felt a twinge in his knee early in the Betfred Cup defeat by Celtic and had to leave the field. Hearts now face being without their five most important players (and their three first-choice captains) for the next few matches at least. It is a quite astonishing tale of woe, particularly given that it has unfolded at a time when Hearts had managed to get themselves into such a promising position. Supporters can only hope that their team can somehow muddle through this remarkable run of misfortune and keep themselves prominent in the Premiership table.
This was a missed opportunity
Celtic may have been able to turn on the style for the closing half hour once they took control but for more than half the match, Hearts, without ever managing to properly impose themselves, were well in it. For 50 minutes, it was a stuffy game, similar in many ways to the 2012 Scottish Cup semi-final between the teams which Hearts won at Hampden. Brendan Rodgers’ side, just three days after their Europa League exertions in Germany, were struggling to find a way through Craig Levein’s well-drilled defence. Only this time, instead of having the penetration to nick a goal at a vital time, a couple of individual lapses from Olly Bozanic and Zdenek Zlamal proved costly for the Edinburgh side, allowing Celtic to open up some much-needed breathing space. Given the exceptional size of the support they had and the level of positivity they entered the match with, allied to the reasonably sound footing they had at the half-way stage of this semi-final, it is impossible to view this as anything other than a missed opportunity for Hearts.