HEARTS manager Paulo Sergio admitted he felt his team’s chance of reaching the final had gone when Gary Hooper’s 87th minute goal for Celtic cancelled out Rudi Skacel’s 47th minute opener for Hearts, leaving him fearing the prospect of extra time.
“I have to be honest, I didn’t think it would be our day when Celtic scored and that just gives this victory even more flavour, fighting all the problems that we’ve been fighting all season,” he said. “I have to remind you, after losing five players in January, we also lost Jamie Hamill this week. We didn’t have Mehdi Taouil, Adrian Mrowiec and, two days ago, we knew Craig Beattie couldn’t start. By the end of the game, Beatts was dead on his feet, Rudi Skacel was dead on his feet and if it had gone to extra time it was going to be hard for us to win it.”
Sergio declined to offer a firm view on referee Euan Norris’ award of Hearts’ penalty for handball against Joe Ledley or his subsequent refusal to give Celtic one for a handball claim against Andy Webster. “I didn’t have a clear view of the penalty we won and I haven’t seen it again on TV,” he said. “I didn’t see Celtic’s claim either. There were too many bodies.”
Sergio preferred to concentrate on his team’s performance, especially in the second half after his successful introduction of match-winner Craig Beattie to bolster Hearts’ attack. “The team changed the game,” he added. “Nobody does it alone. Because of the problems we had, we had to make a strategy to win this game. We wanted to give Celtic some initiative in the first half and to try to use the counter attack. But at half time I wasn’t happy because we weren’t doing anything with the ball or creating any danger. So I wasn’t happy. I told Scott Robinson it wasn’t his fault. He was doing a great job, I just had to make a decision.
“We had to start playing longer balls, more times than I like, and I needed to have another man up front. So we spoke to everyone and I think we made a great second half.
“A few weeks ago people were worried if we would make the top six of the SPL or not. Now we have done that, but we are one point from fifth position and two from fourth – and that gives you a European place. We have to fight for that. There is no way I’ll be resting anybody before the cup final. Their holidays will come soon enough.”
Webster, meanwhile, dismissed Celtic’s handball claim. “The ball hit me on the hip. The ref saw that, so it was never a penalty,” he said.
“I don’t think it was even a heart-in-the-mouth moment, no. It’s up to him to make a decision, that’s what he’s there for.”