Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald’s stunning save was the defining moment in the League Cup quarter-final win over Hibs and is expected to earn the player a nomination at the end-of-season awards bash.
Hearts manager Gary Locke, however, is hoping MacDonald will receive more imminent recognition for his heroics by being handed a maiden call-up to Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad for the friendlies against the USA and Norway.
MacDonald almost single-handedly kept Hibs at bay as they threatened to run amok during the opening stages of Wednesday’s BBC-televised Easter Road showdown.
After already getting down to a low Scott Robertson effort, the 27-year-old somehow managed to turn a fierce drive from the midfielder on to the bar with a stunning one-handed save.
Ryan Stevenson then scored the only goal of the game with a spectacular finish, a lead MacDonald kept intact with another important block to thwart Liam Craig on his way to collecting a third clean sheet of the season.
Amid a profoundly difficult campaign for the administration-hit club, MacDonald’s shot-stopping expertise has been vigorously tested.
Locke believes the ten times-capped Under-21 internationalist should be considered for the forthcoming friendlies.
“Jamie’s save was sensational and he’s been fantastic this season,” said Locke. “Personally, I think he’s good enough for the Scotland squad. His performances certainly merit a call-up.
“I’m not going to pick anyone else’s team but I’m sure Gordon’s aware of how well he’s playing at the moment. No doubt Gordon might be looking at different players ahead of this double-header. Scotland have got fantastic goalkeepers – there’s no doubt about that – but I’m pretty sure the way Jamie’s playing he’s pushing for a place.”
MacDonald’s save and Stevenson’s goal were two moments of undoubted quality in an enthralling cup clash that ultimately signalled the end of Pat Fenlon’s reign at Easter Road.
Surrogate forward Stevenson’s availability for the game was a surprise given fears he had aggravated the knee injury that sidelined him for seven weeks earlier in the season when he hobbled off in last weekend’s defeat at Kilmarnock.
But the former Ayr United player, who left Hearts for a six-month spell at Ipswich in January 2012 in protest at then owner Vladimir Romanov’s running of the club, produced a tireless performance that drew praise from the capacity away support.
Locke added: “Certainly, in our predicament, you need boys like Ryan that are prepared to give everything every week. It’s great because the young boys see that level of effort and commitment and it rubs off on them.
“Ryan went down to Ipswich and at that time it was a great move for him. He’s come back to the club – and the reason we brought him back was we knew he was a fantastic footballer.
“He’s a great lad as well and is really infectious with all the younger ones. He’s always encouraging them and scoring goals against Hibs will always help endear him to the Hearts fans. His effort and commitment was there for all to see the other night.
“He’s certainly been a player that we’ve missed this season when he’s not been available. You’ve got a better chance with players like Ryan playing.”
With a rerun of last season’s League Cup semi-final against Inverness to look forward to, Hearts’ focus reverts back to the Scottish Premiership and reducing their daunting 15-point deficit at the basement when St Johnstone visit Tynecastle this afternoon.
Locke, whose side have lost six out of their last seven league outings, said: “It was a fantastic result and the important thing was to stop the rot of the wee run we were on without a win.
“This game on Saturday is every bit as important as Wednesday night.
“We’re in a situation in the league where we need to pick up points to put pressure on the teams above us. It’s a big ask – it’s not changed since the start of the season.”