Craig Levein has challenged his players to maintain the performance levels reached yesterday on a historic afternoon at Tynecastle. The manager joked he wasn’t able to relax until “around the 89th minute” of Hearts’ 4-0 win over Celtic but planned to savour the result after a stressful year.
“That’s seven-and-a-half months unbeaten at Tynecastle,” he added, with impish reference to the team’s mixed fortunes during their recent residency at Murrayfield. Hearts have now gone six games without defeat since returning to their own ground and reached new heights yesterday with a win that ended Celtic’s 69-match unbeaten domestic run in resounding fashion. It is Hearts’ biggest league win over Celtic since 1895.
It was an afternoon of personal triumph for Levein, who named two teenagers in his starting XI. One of them, 16- year-old Harry Cochrane, scored Hearts’ opening goal in the 26th minute to become the second youngest ever scorer for the club.
Kyle Lafferty added a second with a fine finish nine minutes later and Hearts went into the break 2-0 in front. Given their relentless domestic form over the past 19 months, a Celtic comeback would have surprised no one but instead David Milinkovic added another two goals, the second from the penalty spot, and Hearts cruised home.
Levein has faced criticism since appointing the untried Ian Cathro as head coach 12 months ago, a gamble which the director of football later admitted had failed. He then stepped into the role of manager himself in August with initially underwhelming results. But yesterday’s win, and the manner of it, has helped to lift the pressure from Levein and he was planning to enjoy the occasion.
“With the nature of the circumstances and everything that’s happened in the last year, it’s pleasing”, said the former Scotland manager. “I’ll enjoy it tonight for sure, and then take a deep breath.
“We won’t think about St Johnstone [on Saturday] until tomorrow. This is a one-off I would say at this moment in time. We want to get to this level every week if we can. The crazy thing is we had five or six of our better players unavailable today.”
“I don’t particularly think I have proved anything today,” Levein added. “I hope it means we are on the road to improvement. But it’s football, who knows what happens next?”
Levein revealed he took tips from Anderlecht to end Celtic’s 69-match unbeaten domestic run.
The Belgians defeated Celtic 1-0 in the Champions League earlier this month but it could be argued the Hearts manager formulated a far more successful plan in yesterday’s 4-0 win at Tynecastle.
It is only the sixth time in the last 50 years Celtic have lost a league match by four or more goals.
“We based our game plan on the Anderlecht game in terms of the high-press, being brave at the back and going man-for-man at times,” said Levein.
Levein praised everyone in the team but he realised he could not avoid paying particular attention to Cochrane. Anthony McDonald, another 16-year-old, came on in the second-half, while 19 year-old Jamie Brandon coped very well at left-back, where he was up against James Forrest.
“It’s like everything else, we get a bit excited at times and start putting people on a pedestal and saying they will be this and that,” he said. “He [Cochrane] is just a delight to work with. He’s well-grounded, a well brought up boy who just loves playing football.
“Okay, it’s all new to him just now and he’s going about with a smile like a Cheshire cat as you can imagine. There will be tough times in the future for him. But he has really got something about him.”