I was out celebrating last night and talking to people about where yesterday’s victory over Celtic ranks among results in my lifetime. We spoke about the win over Lokomotiv Leipzig, the 4-0 semi-final win over Hibs in 2006 and the Scottish Cup final win over Rangers in 1998, but I would have to say that yesterday’s was as good a performance and result as I’ve witnessed in the history of Heart of Midlothian Football Club.
So much of the credit for that has to go to Paulo Sergio. I really can’t speak highly enough of our manager – he showed again yesterday just how good an operator he is.
There are not many people among the magnificent Hearts support who would have known at half-time exactly what the right decisions were to get the team moving in the right direction. It’s not a negative against Scott Robinson, but the decision to take him off and put Craig Beattie on was as good a call as I can remember from any Hearts manager, in terms of how things developed from that moment onwards. From there, he then identified that Ian Black was struggling, so he put Suso on and dropped Rudi Skacel back into central midfield, and then he put young Denis Prychynenko on for Stephen Elliott, who had run himself into the ground.
In management, you have to be brave in your decision-making and Paulo showed yesterday why he was deemed good enough to become manager of Sporting Lisbon.
The Hearts supporters should be proud to have him as manager. I questioned the decision to get rid of Jim Jefferies at the start of the season and I still question it to this day. I also questioned the way Paulo wanted to play when he first took over. But every challenge he’s had to face, he’s handled superbly. We now have a manager who has real quality about him and seems to really love working for the club. If we’re not careful in terms of how we handle his contract situation, we risk losing a real class act.
Yesterday’s result was down to a management team and a group of players who have a spirit and togetherness that allows them to go into the final next month in the full belief that they can beat Hibs.
The only new player Paulo’s had since he arrived is Beattie and he was the man who was instrumental in turning the game in Hearts’ favour. A few years back I was critical of Steven Pressley, whom I have the utmost respect for, over the way he celebrated in front of the Celtic fans when he came back to Tynecastle as an ex-Hearts player wearing Celtic colours. Yesterday, the Celtic fans would have felt similar to how I felt back then when they saw one of their former players celebrate in the manner Beattie did. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player celebrate with such unbridled joy as Craig showed.
And no wonder, considering what the goal meant to the club and the supporters. We now have one of the most eagerly-awaited games in the history of the club and I’m glad we’ve got a month to build it up. I said last week I wanted Hibs to get to the final and I just hope the two clubs, who have had no shortage of troubles over the past few years, can go out and do Scottish football and the city of Edinburgh proud on May 19.
There will be a real pressure on the Hearts players to win that game because they’ll go in as strong favourites and the Hearts fans won’t want to see Hibs ending their Scottish Cup hoodoo at our expense. They also have the small matter of a ten-game unbeaten run to try to protect. But at least they will go into the game under the guidance of the best possible management team.