Gary Mackay: Hearts the best team in Scotland ahead of Celtic tie

The Premiership table doesn't lie. At this point in time, Hearts are the best team in Scotland.
Oliver Bozanic has made a big impact for Hearts in the past weeks. Pic: SNSOliver Bozanic has made a big impact for Hearts in the past weeks. Pic: SNS
Oliver Bozanic has made a big impact for Hearts in the past weeks. Pic: SNS

That’s the belief I hope the players take into Sunday’s game against Celtic. I think you can see that belief mirrored in the ticket sales so far.

Many years have past since Hearts have entered a game against Celtic with as much confidence. That run of form hasn’t been there, but it is there now. If it continues and we get the breaks and make it through to the final, then you would have to imagine it would be yet another lift. Then the final would be approached in the same manner because confidence breeds confidence.

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You can see the togetherness in how the players celebrate goals with each other. Sometimes I feel some footballers milk it but everybody wants to celebrate a Hearts goal. Then, at the other end, Zdenek Zlamal has been solid. He pulled off a magnificent save down low from Gary Mackay-Steven last weekend against Aberdeen. Players will have confidence in him and that’s huge.

If you are confident in the team-mate next to you, knowing what he brings to the team and what he does for you, it makes you feel ten feet tall. I think a lot of Hearts players are feeling that way just now. The team has had to be changed due to injuries and it’s always easier to go into a winning team than to try and lift a losing team. Every individual transition right now appears to be seamless at Hearts. That’s down to how we’ve started the season and credit to the individual players who are now thinking: ‘Wow, I want to be part of this.’

There are so many permutations Hearts can choose for Sunday and that’s a great option to have. It’s a great situation that Celtic won’t know what will happen, either. They will have to deal with it. We are solid defensively right now and, although Celtic have scored a few goals recently in Scotland, they don’t look bullet-proof at the back. We have the quality to beat them, so it’s about having confidence but not being over-confident going into the game. The players have earned the right to feel really good about themselves for what they’ve done in the league and in the Betfred Cup so far.

I’m more about the collective but I really like the look of this Oliver Bozanic in midfield. Scott Brown is out on Sunday and that’s a disappointment for Celtic. Having watched Bozanic, he could be as good a midfielder player as we have had at the club for a long time.

These days midfield is different but it’s like a magnetism when he plays in there. That’s not luck, it’s good judgment; having the knowledge to know where the ball will be and being able to use it when he get’s it. He isn’t the biggest but the athleticism he has is also impressive.

He is competitive and he can pass. He’s the one I’m looking forward to seeing more of. I was keen to see him lock horns with Scott Brown and I would have been confident of Bozanic’s chances. Without Brown, it will be somebody else he comes up against.

Peter Haring didn’t play on Tuesday against Dundee and Olly Lee was on the bench, but the strength in depth of the squad was there for all to see in a convincing 3-0 win. That’s down to positive recruitment in the summer. We can’t hide away from the fact our recruitment had been up and down previously. We had a good period, then it was really poor, but now it has exceeded itself.

Celtic will be second-guessing Hearts now. In a lot of games against the Old Firm, you are second-guessing their team because of the number of choices they have. Celtic will be trying to second guess who Hearts are going to start with on Sunday.

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The supporters are backing the team and buying into the positivity around the place and that’s brilliant to see. Having as many fans as Celtic inside Murrayfield will be crucial and I’m pretty certain it is going to be a special atmosphere with nearly 67,000 people. No-one wants to miss out.

These are the games you really look forward to as a Hearts fan and I can’t wait for Sunday to come round because I believe we have a real chance of getting to a cup final.