Conor Shaughnessy knows what it is like to live with the memories of a shock cup exit and he has urged his Hearts team-mates not to underestimate tonight’s opponents.
Championship strugglers Partick Thistle stand between the Edinburgh side and a place in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and Craig Levein’s men are obvious favourites, but Shaughnessy serves as a cautionary tale of what could happen if they fail to approach the match with the right attitude.
“Last season we went out to Newport in the FA Cup,” said the defender who is on loan from Leeds United.
“It was a big defeat for us, probably the worst defeat I’ve been involved in. You have to be prepared against a smaller team and realise that it’s going to be a tough game. You need to put in a performance like [Hearts v Celtic] on Wednesday to come through it.”
For the 22-year-old Irishman, the pain of losing that third-round match to a League Two side was magnified by the fact that he had netted an own goal to help them pull off the shock.
“Yeah. It was a good little finish,” he said self-deprecatingly “Now that I’ve been through it, I know that you have to go into it preparing like it’s the biggest game you’ve ever played. You’re up against a team who are the underdogs, so they’re going to up their game. You’ve got to match that in your work rate and intensity and then hope the quality shows through in the end.”
Earlier in that campaign Leeds had defeated the Welsh minnows 5-1 at Elland Road on League Cup duty but when they travelled to Rodney Parade they faced a tougher task than many had anticipated and did not raise their game to the necessary levels.
“I wouldn’t say we underestimated Newport. I think we started the game well but maybe lacked a bit of quality,” said Shaughnessy, who has made five appearances for the Tynecastle club since joining in January. “The own goal put us on the back foot and then we switched off for the second goal. Newport have knocked out a few big teams since then although I wouldn’t take that as any consolation.”
The game was on the BBC but rather than torture himself with reruns he says he has only seen bits of the match back, determined to learn from it but not dwell on it
“It was tough at the time as I hadn’t played many games and the defeat was a real learning curve for me,” he added.
“I am better off for having had that negative experience but I am now looking to get positive memories from the Scottish Cup.
“I’ve never reached the semi-final of a cup competition so that would be massive for me.”
Tonight’s match will also be on the BBC and if Hearts can reproduce the level of performance they served up despite losing to Celtic last week, he believes they will deliver a more positive result.
“Wednesday night was tough to take but straight after the game the manager said: ‘We’re in a quarter-final next Monday so let’s put things right and get into a semi-final’.
“If we could play that way every week, we’re going to win 90 per cent of our games. It’s about putting in consistently top performances.
“But, getting to a semi-final would be massive boost to everyone. We were down after losing the Celtic game. So it’s another big game to lift the season again.”
A perfect fillip or a brutal blow, with Shaughnessy warning that defeat would count as just as big a cup shock as Leeds losing to Newport.
“It would definitely be similar. Maybe Partick are not as far down the leagues as Newport were at the time but I think it would be viewed as an upset and we need to be on our guard.”
Having learned lessons from the Newport embarrassment, the brother of St Johnstone’s Joe Shaughnessy claims that joining Hearts until the end of the season has been a good way to continue his education, gaining advice from the experienced defenders at the capital club, from manager Levein through to his various defensive team-mates.
“I have learned a lot so far. Every game has brought a different challenge,” he said. “We have had lots of good games and this is a tough, intense league and already I have come up against a lot of different types of players and strikers.
“It has been great for me learning wise. Christophe [Berra] and John [Souttar] have been great to play alongside. They are two very experienced players and everyday they are giving me tips on how to improve my game and on what I can do better.”