Hearts boss Craig Levein: Semi-final against Rangers not a day out at Hampden – we want to win
Craig Levein insists Hearts are not going to Hampden Park to make up the numbers after securing a Betfred Cup semi-final against Rangers.
The Edinburgh club beat Aberdeen 3-0 on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Tynecastle Park in last night’s quarter-final. They now meet Rangers in Glasgow in the last four in November and manager Levein wants a place in the final.
Celtic and Hibs meet in the other semi - keeping the possibility of a Hearts-Hibs final alive.
Levein can look ahead to his club’s third cup semi-final inside 12 months after reaching the last four of the same competition last October. He also took Hearts to the Scottish Cup final in May but lost to Celtic on both occasions.
“Getting to both semis last year was good. Getting to the final was great. It gave us a taste for it. Everybody had smiles on their faces at the end against Aberdeen and they were enjoying themselves,” said Levein.
“I don’t just want to go to Hampden and have a day out. I want to get to the final and then have a day out if we can.”
The manager revealed that Hearts have practised penalties for a year since that Betfred semi with Celtic at BT Murrayfield. Last night’s quarter-final ended 2-2 after extra-time and was decided on spot-kicks, with the hosts prevailing by a 3-0 margin.
Sam Cosgrove scored two penalties for Aberdeen during the first half of 90 minutes. Steven MacLean equalised the first time, with Craig Halkett headed a dramatic late leveller in stoppage time at the end of the regulation 90.
Glenn Whelan, Michael Smith and Aidan Keena all scored for Hearts in the shootout as Aberdeen missed all of their first three penalties to exit the competition.
“I don’t know if I’ve got any energy left to celebrate. I said it would be tight because it’s the same every time we play Aberdeen. It went right to the wire,” said Levein.
“We’ve been practising penalties since before the semi-final at Murrayfield. All credit to Austin MacPhee [Levein’s assistant]. He has been working with the players on that in case we got into a similar situation. They have come up trumps.
“We were determined on Sunday against Hibs and that’s what won us the match. We had guts and determination again last night. When we play like that, we have a chance of winning every match.
“We have been nervous at home but the size of the match helped us. We weren’t favourites to win and that helped us relax. I felt, for the first 35 minutes, we were fantastic but we didn’t take our chances. It’s good to see players playing with a bit of freedom and I think that was because of the confidence gained from the Hibs match.
“The supporters were brilliant. The way we started the game is how they want to see us play. Sometimes playing free-flowing football without a cloudy head isn’t easy if you’re not winning. I thought Glenn Whelan was wonderful on Sunday and I didn’t think he could get any better, but he was man of the match.”
Hearts could only lament the two penalties they conceded for Cosgrove to score. They came from 1-0 down to beat Hibs 2-1 at the weekend and Levein is hoping to find a more straightforward way to win.
“That’s two weeks in a row we’ve done it the hard way. We spoke before the Hibs game about not giving the opposition goals. I thought we gave Aberdeen two goals but we’ve still managed to win. I don’t know how much longer we can continue to do that with me still breathing.”
Having been under pressure before the Hibs game due to a poor start to the league campaign, Levein has now seen his side triumph in two massive matches. “Two swallows don’t make a summer. I hope we get to 48 or something like that,” he smirked