This great span of years can only serve to heighten the sense of occasion. It certainly cannot make John McGlynn’s task any easier as he seeks to ensure his players do not freeze in the intensity of the moment, as many felt Hearts were guilty of doing a year ago against Tottenham Hotspur.
There are some Hearts fans who will have had less trouble recognising faces on the Liverpool bench on Saturday than identifying those who sat in their own side’s dug-out for the weekend’s 2-2 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. McGlynn himself flagged this up yesterday as he pointed out that Liverpool had Joe Cole, Jamie Carragher, Andy Carroll and Scotland internationalist Charlie Adam sitting on the sidelines for Liverpool’s disappointing 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion.
This illustrates the gulf existing between the clubs, as does so much else. McGlynn also made reference to Liverpool’s recent purchase of Joe Allen from Swansea City for £15 million. It is the sort of sum Vladimir Romanov, who once reportedly toyed with the idea of purchasing Liverpool, would gladly accept for his stake in Hearts. “When did a Scottish team last spend any amount of money like that? When did Hearts last sign a player for money?” asked McGlynn yesterday. “Virtually every one of their players is an international.”
Not that the Hearts manager was sounding completely cowed by the task in hand. Like Albion last Saturday, he suggested that Hearts could be facing Liverpool at the right time – or, at least, at a better time than a few weeks’ hence. Brendan Rodgers is in the process of transferring his preferred brand of football from Swansea, the club he left earlier this summer, to Liverpool, and there have clearly been some teething problems.
“They are in this transition period with the manager trying to get them to play probably the way Swansea played,” said McGlynn. “That’s not necessarily a weakness, but maybe we can take the opportunity.
“If we were to play them in six weeks and they were further down the line they might be more ready,” he added. “We’re hoping to catch them at a good time. Our flair players must take them on and we’ll pick a team along those lines. We don’t just want to sit back and hope it’s 0-0.”
That would not, however, be the worst result to take to Anfield next week. It would certainly be an improvement on the 5-0 scoreline which robbed the second leg of last season’s Europa League play-off tie with Spurs of much of its significance. McGlynn, who was then manager of Raith Rovers, accepted that the players could have been “star-struck” that night.
“The occasion and atmosphere is great and before you realise it, you’re into the game and you’re 2-0 down” said McGlynn. “That’s what we have to get across – don’t get caught up in the hype. The noise will be great so when the players are talking to each other they must make sure the information gets through.
“The only way we can bridge that [gulf] is organisation, effort and you’re hoping they take their eye off the ball to produce the type of cup-tie scenario that crops up all the time.
“We can also take some comfort from the fact Liverpool didn’t play that well against FC Gomel away in the last round. They only won 1-0. [Stewart] Downing came on the pitch and had a great shot but on the night the Belarussians could have scored two or three.”
As is the case with many of his young players, McGlynn might also need to give himself a pinch tonight. On this date one year ago he was present at the Excelsior stadium to see his side defeated 2-0 by Airdrie United in the League Cup. Now he is preparing to sample a full Tynecastle for the first time as permanent manager against the five-time champions of Europe.
What Hearts do have in their advantage is a partisan home ground. Liverpool supporters have been handed just over 1,200 tickets and will be heavily outnumbered. The sign that reads “This is Anfield” has long intimidated opposition before they have even stepped out onto the pitch at Liverpool. At Tynecastle, the equivalent message in the tunnel reads: “Blood does not show on a maroon jersey”.
Without being reckless, McGlynn knows his players must play the game rather than opponents who, although boasting many familiar faces, return down Gorgie way for the first time since 1958, when they played a charity match at Tynecastle against an Edinburgh Select XI.
In the interim, Liverpool grew to become the most feared club side in world football. There might be an argument to say Spurs presented a more arduous test last year. Liverpool, however, have retained an aura. They return to the stomping ground of one of their greatest ever players in Graeme Souness, who lived for a spell in a street just off Gorgie Road when a youngster.
With Steven Gerrard missing, there is no-one of quite the same class as Souness in the current Liverpool side. But the physical conditioning that was one of the Scottish midfielder’s obsessions is now a feature of most Premier League teams. Certainly, when Spurs visited Tynecastle last season it was startling to observe the contrast in not only talent, but also size. This will make it an additionally testing evening for those such as David Templeton and teenage full-back Callum Paterson. “There’s always been room for the Jinky Johnstones, Willie Hendersons and Willie Morgans,” said McGlynn, with reference to pocket-sized dynamos. “We will not be able to match them in every area of the pitch physically because we don’t have that.
“Our guys who are flair players are probably lighter and thinner but maybe have pace and skill. We’ll have to see if that will be enough on the night. We must have big hearts, be brave and try to knock Liverpool off their stride.”
Enckelman braced for baptism of fire
Hearts manager John McGlynn will assess this morning whether Jamie MacDonald is in the right frame of mind to face Liverpool after the goalkeeper became the father of a baby daughter yesterday.
Peter Enckelman is on stand-by to make his debut for the club in the sold-out Europa League play-off match at Tynecastle. Enckelman only signed for Hearts on Friday after the back-up Mark Ridgers suffered a knee injury while on Scotland Under-21 duty. Despite signing after the European deadline for tonight’s fixture, the Tynecastle club were given special dispensation to allow the goalkeeper to feature in the Europa League campaign.
MacDonald informed his manager of the unfolding drama yesterday morning with the goalkeeper and his partner having made a late dash to hospital on Tuesday before the baby eventually arrived yesterday afternoon.
“I got a text from Jamie MacDonald as I arrived to say his partner had been in hospital since 4am but the baby hadn’t arrived,” said McGlynn speaking at the press conference yesterday morning.
“He came in later in the afternoon on Tuesday, he’d gone to hospital in the morning but was sent home and then he went back in through the night” he explained.
Enckelman had been training with Preston North End for a spell after being released by St Johnstone at the end of last season.
“It was a mutual thing; they wanted to see me and I wanted to see the club,” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t for them and they weren’t for me.” The former Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa ‘keeper will simply be happy to be involved in the squad tonight after being without a club at the start of the season.
Speaking yesterday, before the birth, Enckelman said: “I would be very, very sorry for Jamie if he cannot make the game. He has been working hard for a number of years now. I am sure he will be playing. I am sure he is kicking his wife’s backside to get the kid out as soon as possible. As far as I know, the baby will arrive. I don’t know all the ins and outs but he is hopeful he will be available, anyway.”
Enckelman did, however, insist he was ready to step into the breach if necessary, although no-one could pretend he has had the ideal preparation for a game against Liverpool. Just a week ago he was watching a fringe show in Edinburgh’s Bristo Square while wondering where his career would take him next.
He has kept himself fit by running in the streets of Edinburgh, where he lives and the call to help out Hearts could have not come at a better time and nor could it have been more convenient.
“I am sure that was part of the decision making as well because from the club’s point of view I was already living in Edinburgh,” he said. “I already know the city so it is very easy to come in to training. It was ideal for me. It is only until January but at least it is something. I am just looking forward to being here, Hearts is a great club to be at.”