Cup final display showed Sean Clare that Hearts can live with Celtic

Hearts didn’t exit Hampden with silverware in May but the performance in the Scottish Cup final allows them to return to Glasgow tomorrow undaunted by the task ahead.

Sean Clare takes time out from a Hearts training session at the Oriam to discuss their Premiership match against Celtic. Picture: SNS.
Sean Clare takes time out from a Hearts training session at the Oriam to discuss their Premiership match against Celtic. Picture: SNS.

Ultimately, Celtic wrapped up the treble treble that day but, having offered a sterner test than many had predicted and their form had suggested they were capable of, the Gorgie side departed with heads held high.

The most recent match-up comes early in the new campaign, one in which the Parkhead club have slapped down their last two Premiership opponents by slamming seven and then five goals past them, whereas Hearts have had mixed fortunes.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

But Sean Clare believes that the way they pulled things together in the cup final to run tomorrow’s hosts close, gives the squad grounds for optimism.

“I wouldn’t say it’s daunting,” said Clare. “They didn’t score five or six in their most recent games [on European duty but also against lower league Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup]. So, although they are a very good side, we feel like we are a very good side. We can’t let them play how they want to play otherwise they will be very effective but it’s down to us to stop them. It’s a good match-up and our last few games have been really close. They’ve pipped us at the end but we’re looking to give them one back.

“We can take belief from that [Scottish Cup final] game. We played really well that day and were unlucky to lose. I felt we were in control until they scored their first. We were making them do what we wanted them to do. But it just shows the quality in their team that they had two good chances and put both away. We can learn from that and need to limit them as much as we can, as well as being a threat ourselves going forward.

“They are a massive club and a good team, so a good result would give us massive confidence. But when we’re playing, we won’t be thinking about how big a club Celtic are, it’ll just be another team we need to get points against.”

While the pressure has been on Hearts following a fairly subdued start to the season, with the restlessness in the stands transmitting on to the pitch, clear-the-air talks in the wake of the recent Ross County encounter have helped focus minds.

In a really poor performance that day, the home side were lucky to escape with a goalless draw and, with boos ringing in their ears, there were some honest exchanges in the dressing room afterwards.

“No-one was blaming anyone,” explained the Hearts midfielder. “We shared the blame. It was all on us. It wasn’t down to a lack of trying or a lack of effort. We didn’t work smart in the right areas. So we had a few words and everyone took it on the chin.

“The manager was involved to start with then he let us speak and it was more of an open discussion with everyone and I think that helped. It wasn’t a heated discussion, it was more like a few home truths. There was no need to shout and scream because when it’s a team discussion that doesn’t help anyone. But, everyone spoke their mind, said things clearly and then we left. I’m sure everyone thought about it when they went home. Then we came back in, worked really hard in the following week and managed to get a good result.”

That win over Motherwell, to book a slot in the Betfred Cup quarter-finals, was a timely
boost and it is a result they now want to build on.

“Against Motherwell I think we proved that we can do the dirty work and play. It was a learning curve and we’ve set a benchmark now.”