Hearts players know from bitter experience just how difficult life can be when the fans turn against them. But they are looking to convert that knowledge into a positive at Hampden today when they take on Rangers in the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup.
A bold and industrious start against the Ibrox side in a league match at Tynecastle a fortnight ago left Steven Gerrard’s men rattled and laid the foundations for a score draw that could just as easily have been a home win. It inspired the home fans but quickly cranked up the pressure on their Glasgow guests.
“That’s what we are hoping for,” said Steven MacLean, the veteran striker looking to edge closer to another domestic medal, at the age of 37. “They are going to have the majority of the crowd but we can use that to our advantage.
“We’ve seen it at Ibrox, you can frustrate them. It happens with our fans at home too. If they are frustrated they can get on the team’s back. That’s what we need to try to do.
“If you look at their manager’s comments after the last game, he’ll be hoping they do not make the same mistakes again. We have to make sure we do the same things, unsettle them and take our chances when they come along. That will be a big part of the game – we have to be clinical. Their manager will be saying that they need to start the game better but we need to try to start the way we did last time.”
The managerial upheaval at Hearts has impacted on preparations, with many players and coaches confessing to some guilt over the form and results that precipitated the sacking of Craig Levein. But it is hoped that the change will have a unifying effect and encourage the disgruntled fans to again focus on backing the team.
“Hopefully most of the Hearts fans will think we can win and the players definitely think that way but the rest of the country probably won’t give us a chance,” said MacLean.
The clever striker has defied the odds before, winning the Scottish Cup with St Johnstone in 2014 when he scored in the final victory over Dundee United.
“It’s about getting the job done no matter how you do it. It’s about getting through and trying to get into the final,” he added.
“You never know when these occasions are going to come round again. I had the two last season and a final [reaching the Betfred Cup semi-final and the Scottish Cup final with Hearts] but they don’t come around very often.
“I’m fortunate enough to have won two Scottish Cups [he was a substitute when Rangers lifted the trophy in 2003] and been knocked out in a couple of semi-finals but these games are just all about winning.”