Craig Levein: Hearts can take the pressure of cup semi-final

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Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager John Robertson has said he knows the pressure his Hearts counterpart and his capital team will be under when they head through to Hampden to face his Championship side in the Scottish Cup semi final.

He knows it but so does his former team-mate, Craig Levein, who would rather have the extra burden of the favourites’ tag.

Hearts manager Craig Levein

Hearts manager Craig Levein

“I feel good about the pressure,” said the man who expects both Peter Haring, inset right, and Uche Ikpeazu, below, to shrug off niggles to start the game and for his team to go on and book their place in the final.

“You play football or manage in order to get into the position whereby you have pressure games. If you never get into pressure situations in your career, then what is the point?

“We know that coming into this game as favourites brings its own pressures and there is no doubting we have more pressure and Inverness have less pressure. But we have more athleticism and more ability, they have less. So, the key for us is to deal with the pressure of being favourites. The rest is fine.”

Having admitted that winning his first piece of silverware at Hearts, a club which has been a massive part of his career and his life for several decades, would mean everything to him, Levein says that desire will not be enough on its own.

“How much you want it doesn’t always mean you are going to get what you want. We are the favourites for this match and I would rather be the favourites than the other way around. But, as favourites, we have to think clearly and calmly about what we do on the field, how we use our advantages.

“I have no fears about them being up for the game. Everybody is up for the game. It is just how we focus that will help us.

“But talking about the final would be disrespectful to Inverness when we still have got all the work to do.”

Recent form means that nothing can be considered a foregone conclusion. The Hearts team that rattled five past the Highlanders in the group stages of the League Cup at the start of the season, have stuttered and stumbled. The early form which saw them shine has been fleeting, yet, when they are near their best, they are capable of testing Celtic and beating Kilmarnock and Aberdeen, but they have also struggled to cast aside lowly Partick Thistle and succumbed to Hamilton.

With two managers who know each other so well and so deep into the season when there will be few surprises in the way the teams tackle the game, it will be a case of who can use that information to sway things their way

“I don’t want to give an awful lot away about what we’ve been working on,” said Levein when asked what kind of game he expects. “Robbo’s teams play in a certain way. And we understand that. We’ve passed that information to the players.”

And he says he will be happy if Robertson sets up his side to combat a Hearts team that apparently only plays route one.

“I had to laugh on Saturday when that came up,” said Levein. “Sometimes we do play long ball. 
Absolutely. We’ve got Uche in the team because he’s good at getting us from point A to point B but the perception is that’s all we do and I completely disagree with that.”

Statistics back him up, showing that only Dundee, Rangers and 
Celtic rely on long passes less than the Gorgie side.

“But that’s facts.They don’t want to talk about that. I’m happy to leave the perception the way it is .

“My view is we have a really good player up front, who can do things that other players can’t deal with, so let’s use him. But we don’t use him all the time. A lot of the time we play out from the back, go wide and get crosses in.”

But, as a Tynecastle legend, Robertson has greater insight into what makes Hearts ticks than most, according to Levein.

“He knows us, I know him. He knows our players, I know his players. I’m still friendly with him from however many years ago, 35 years or whatever and we still speak.

“We’re well into the season, we’ve played 33 games in the league plus however many cup-ties and all of that footage is available for Robbo and his players to watch. And I’ve got
the same advantage with his 
team.

“He’s done a fantastic job. They had a slow start and things picked up. Now they’re on a decent run of
form.

“They’re not going to win that league but they’re in a position to at least get in the play-offs. Considering he’s had his budget cut and stuff like that, he’s done a fantastic job.

“I don’t think there’s any secrets or advantages, I just think it’s about both of us understanding what our team needs to do. We’ll see who 
carries it out best.”