THOSE who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, according to the proverb. As Gary Locke prepares to welcome Celtic to Tynecastle tomorrow, he can only hope that his Hearts squad have learned the lesson of the fixture’s recent history exceedingly well.
The last time the champions visited Gorgie was on the first day of December, on Scottish Cup duty. They won 7-0 – Hearts’ worst result in 40 years, and one of the most humiliating in their history.
Locke’s young squad acquitted themselves far more creditably when the teams met again in Glasgow on league duty just three weeks later, going down 2-0 after trailing by just a single goal until the final minutes. But this is the first time since the cup game that the teams have met at Tynecastle, and it would be understandable if the home team and support alike were to be somewhat fearful of the outcome.
Yesterday, though, Locke insisted he was approaching the game in a positive fashion. “I think it’s a game you’ve got to look forward to,” he said. “It’s a great one to be involved in whether you’re a coach, manager or player. There will be a great atmosphere and a big crowd.
“There was a big improvement from the cup game when we went to Parkhead. Being the away team we could kind of sit back. It’s always slightly different when you’re the home team as you’ve got to try and have a go.
“We might have to change that a little bit. But it’s one we’re looking forward to. There’s no real pressure on us – Celtic are undefeated in the league and have hardly conceded any goals.
“It just all happened that day,” he continued, referring to the cup tie. “It was a poor one for us, obviously, but there’s nothing we can do about it now – we’ve just got to look ahead.
“We’re probably going into this game in a better frame of mind than we did for that one. I feel we’ve played well recently in the league.
“As I say, it’s a difficult game. There’s no doubt about that. They have great players – top internationals – but that should make it one to look forward to.”
No matter how calamitous the cup defeat was at the time, no matter the temptation to put it out of mind and never refer to it again, Locke believes the experience can be useful to his players provided they examine their shortcomings with unflinching honesty. “After the game you don’t think it’s been beneficial, but once you look back it is. I think especially the younger players in the squad learn from games like that and the mistakes they made.
“They will know when they’ve not switched on against top players. When that happens, they punish you. That’s what happened. I’ve not watched it back a couple of times – just the once – that was enough. You’ve got to, as these are the games you learn most from as a manager and a player. We certainly can’t afford to switch off at any stage because they have got players who, if you switch off for one second, they will punish you.”
Celtic are unbeaten in the league so far, and goalkeeper Fraser Forster is just over half an hour away from a record for not conceding a goal. “You know they might well go the whole season undefeated,” Locke accepted. “But it would be nice to be the team that stops them. For that to happen, we know we’ll have to be switched on for 90 minutes, for us to have a great day and for them to have an off day. We know that can happen.”
One boost for Locke is the return to fitness of midfielder Jason Holt, who had been out injured with a broken metatarsal since shortly before the cup match against Celtic, and scored in the first game of the season between the teams, a 3-1 win for the champions in Edinburgh. An unused substitute in last week’s goalless draw in Inverness, Holt played from the start in the under-20s’ defeat by St Mirren on Wednesday night and looks certain to play a part tomorrow.
“Jason got through 90 minutes last night so we’ll see how he is,” Locke added. “I put him on the bench last week, which really I shouldn’t have done. That was through a lack of numbers. He’ll be involved on Saturday – whether that’s on the bench or not I don’t know but hopefully he’ll get some minutes on the pitch.
“There’s not many players who have scored against Forster this season. That’s why, for me, the pressure is off us a bit. I think Celtic are strong favourites – everyone expects them to win. We can go and enjoy the game and if we play the way we have been the past month or so we can cause them problems.”
l Publishers 442 Sports Marketing are to make a “sizeable donation” to the Foundation of Hearts from every programme sold for the Celtic game. The programme is a special edition that will celebrate the Foundation’s ‘create history’ campaign, and will include an interview with the group’s chairman Ian Murray.
Priced £3.50, the programme will be on sale at the club’s ticket centre on McLeod Street from lunchtime today as well as from the usual vendors in the run-up to kick-off tomorrow. Only 3,000 copies have been made, and there will be no reprint.