Craig Levein admitted Hearts should have avoided a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay after his team’s 1-1 draw at Partick Thistle.
The Edinburgh club’s manager insisted they did enough to win the tie before learning that John Robertson’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle lie in wait in the semi-finals.
Thistle’s Christie Elliott equalised in the second half after Christophe Berra headed Hearts into an early lead at Firhill. That set up a replay on Tuesday, March 12, at Tynecastle Park – with the winner facing Inverness at Hampden in the semi-final.
Levein felt his side created enough chances to win Tuesday night’s match after they hit the post and the crossbar during the second half. They also had a penalty claim refused when Thistle’s Gary Harkins challenged Uche Ikpeazu 15 minutes from the end.
He was disappointed at not beating the Championship’s bottom club but is confident Hearts will prevail in the replay.
“We did enough to win in the first half and didn’t get that gap with the second goal, which would have been game over,” said Levein. “Credit to Partick, they kept plugging away and caught us on a counter-attack, which was annoying because we’re usually good at dealing with that.
“Their goal was from probably their first shot on target. Our players are disappointed but our intention was to come out of the game still in the draw and we still are in the draw. We’ve got a game back at Tynecastle which I feel confident about, so it’s not a bad situation for us.”
Levein admitted his team needed a second goal to kill Partick off. “Sometimes you have so much of the ball players feel that’ll continue. But things change in matches – substitutions, change of shapes, things like that which alter the match. Until we got that second we weren’t safe and that proved to be the case,” he said, before adding that Ikpeazu requires more protection on the field.
“I really feel sorry for Uche. Just because he’s stronger people shouldn’t be allowed to foul him. I don’t care what way you go down if you get fouled it’s a penalty,” added Levein. “Take that away and we still had other chances to kill it. I don’t want to start telling him to go down. He’s a strong boy and he should get an even break. If he’s stronger it’s not a foul but he constantly gets pulled up because he’s stronger than others.
“There’s nobody else in Scotland like him so he’s different and he gets penalised for being stronger. I feel for him because you look at his performance ... he gives me everything you look for as a manager every week. He just doesn’t get an even break.”
The Thistle manager Gary Caldwell stressed that taking Hearts to a replay should imbue his players with plenty confidence. “It was a great cup tie. It was big disappointment in the first half,” he explained. “We asked for composure and passing but we didn’t do it until 25 or 30 minutes in. We knew we’d have to defend and deal with Hearts’ physicality at set-pieces. They have great variation and we did that very well apart from the goal.
“Once we grew into the game in the second half we were outstanding. We played well, passed the ball well and scored a brilliant goal. We played in their half more and had territory higher up the pitch. They had to show courage and bravery on the ball.
“We’ve had one and a half bad games since January 1 so this result was massive in putting those games to bed. This is a good team that has only lost twice since January. We have to keep playing like that in the league, but it should give the players huge confidence and belief they can do that the rest of the season.”