THERE is little any footballer, or any football manager, can say after their team has just lost 7-0. Indeed, most of them refuse to say anything, with even the more outgoing ones declining the media duties in which they readily engage at other times.
It was to their credit, then, that Hearts manager Gary Locke and goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald spoke calmly and rationally after their humiliating loss to Celtic yesterday.
Locke has known all season that a result like this was in the offing – that one day his young, inexperienced, under-resourced squad would come up against opponents on top of their game and suffer an agonisingly heavy defeat. But that knowledge did not make the loss any easier to take.
Nor was MacDonald consoled by the fact that he was hardly to blame on an afternoon when his defence were simply over-run. You win as a team and you lose as a team – and the goalkeeper decided that all he could do was to say sorry to the Hearts supporters on behalf of that team.
“That was as difficult a game as I’ve ever been involved in,” he said. “I’d just like to apologise to the fans for what happened. It was an embarrassment for ourselves.
“We are disappointed for ourselves and disappointed for the fans. It was a bad day at the office for us and this is probably the most difficult time I’ve had in football.
“To be honest, you have to give Celtic a lot of credit. They were phenomenal. If they played like that against anyone today, they’d have given them a doing.”
Everyone at Tynecastle knows that their main battles this season are not against Celtic, and certainly not in the knockout competitions. That fact may have been of little or no consolation last night, but MacDonald insisted the squad could at least take the lessons of this defeat into the league, where they are fighting to avoid relegation.
“We need to bounce back now,” he went on. “That’s the most important thing, and we even said that at half-time. We knew we were out of the cup, but the big thing was to see what the boys were made of and how they would react.
“But the boys have to remember how they feel after this game and make sure they never feel like it again. It was a harsh lesson for all of us and especially the young ones, but it’s character-building and it’s now about how we bounce back from this defeat.”
Hearts’ worst loss to Celtic was also their worst result against anyone since the Edinburgh derby defeat of 1973, and was a goal short of being the biggest competitive defeat in a history that dates back to 1874. Those statistics only hint at how bad the players must feel to be on the receiving end of such a beating, and Locke knows he has somehow to pick them up this week before they visit Dundee United on Saturday in the league.
“My worry at the start of the season was that might happen, and now it has happened it’s important we respond in the right manner,” the manager said. “Our aim this season is to stay in the league – that’s going to be extremely difficult with the depth of the squad, but it’s a harsh lesson for us.
“As a manager you’re always worried about the sort of impact a defeat like that can have on players who are so young. As I’ve said all season, we just have to take it on the chin and move on.
“It’s a sore one, and I’m pig sick for our fans who have stood by us all season. It’s important we respond in the right way.”