It’s easy to imagine. A closely- fought Scottish Cup tie between Motherwell and Hearts entering its final moments with the scoreline still all-square.
Suddenly, there’s a flurry of activity in the home side’s penalty area – a tug of a shirt perhaps, a push in the back. Referee Andrew Dallas points to the spot: it’s a penalty to Hearts. Their cup ambitions hinge on it.
Given such a scenario, Don Cowie, pictured, has no doubt Kyle Lafferty has the character to step up again in such a high-pressure situation, just as he did on Tuesday night against Kilmarnock. Cowie is also confident there will be a different outcome this time.
Hearts were presented with a golden opportunity to secure three points when Lafferty was bundled to the ground in the 90th minute of the 1-1 draw. The striker got up and grabbed the ball and seemed all set to slot home his 16th goal of the season.
But Lafferty hit his penalty too near Jamie MacDonald, allowing the goalkeeper to make a save. “Sloppy” is how manager Craig Levein described the player’s effort afterwards.
It summed up Lafferty’s all-round display on a night when, according to Levein, he was “off it”. Cowie conceded the player was unable to hide his disappointment afterwards.
Another two points had slipped from Hearts’ grasp but, in truth, it could actually be described as a point won. Kilmarnock had the better of the evening and were themselves denied at the death when Jordan Jones’ header was superbly saved by Jon McLaughlin.
But Lafferty’s miss dominated the post-match agenda. In view of Hearts’ cup commitments this weekend at Fir Park, it was worth pondering what ill-effects, if any, will be felt by a player who is normally not shy about coming forward.
“I am not going to pretend,” said Cowie. “His head was down in the dressing room He is disappointed.
“But come tomorrow we will pick him up and make sure he is ready. I am sure if we get another penalty on Sunday he will be the first one wanting to take it because he is that sort of person, that sort of player.
“It’s just sheer instinct and he wants to get goals. It happens all around the world in football; people miss penalties. It is about having the courage to get up and take another one. I know he will have that.”
It isn’t the ideal way to approach such a vital Scottish Cup assignment. Cowie acknowledges Lafferty will need to feel some love. However, he is also sure that, as an experienced goalscorer, he can recover quickly.
“Kyle will need lifted a wee bit after that,” said Cowie. “He’s a goalscorer. When you get the chance so late in the game, there’s no real time to rectify it when you miss. So that was disappointing for him. But it happens. People miss penalties all the time, we move on. We wanted him to score, he didn’t. That’s it really.”
One player who did take a confidence boost from the night was Steven Naismith, Lafferty’s strike partner. He scored his first Hearts goal in his seventh appearance since joining on loan from Norwich City.
Naismith missed two games with a hamstring injury before returning as a substitute against Rangers on Saturday and looked sharp from the start against Kilmarnock.
“It’s been a frustrating two weeks for him. He thought he was going to be fit but didn’t quite make it for the last two games,” said Cowie. “To see him back out there was great, especially completing 90 minutes and getting his first goal, that can only be good for us.
“The club pulled out all the stops to get Steven and it’s been frustrating that he hasn’t been able to play more.
“But now we have a massive game on Sunday and hopefully with that 90 minutes under his belt he’ll be ready and raring to go.”
Despite joining Hearts two years ago, Cowie has yet to experience a last-eight cup clash at the club. It is a sign that, while things are improving off and on the field, there is still work to be done.
“I have said it numerous times since I’ve been at the club – what Hearts need to be doing is getting to the latter stages of cup competitions and we have not managed that,” he said. “This is my first quarter-final since I have been here. It’s a massive game.
“It will be tough, Motherwell have improved since the transfer window and have re-energised their squad. It will be a difficult game but one we believe we can come through.”
l Hearts have decided not to offer a contract to Ivorian striker Ghislain Guessan, who has been on trial at Tynecastle.