Hearts post-match: Teenage kicks in Scottish Cup final dress rehearsal

Teenagers from both clubs glistened on trophy day at Parkhead as Hearts and Celtic prepared for the Scottish Cup final with what almost became an exhibition game. The imminent meeting at Hampden Park between these two clubs dictated neither could show their hand yesterday, thus some prodigious youngsters on both sides got worthwhile first-team experience.

Teenagers from both clubs glistened on trophy day at Parkhead as Hearts and Celtic prepared for the Scottish Cup final with what almost became an exhibition game. The imminent meeting at Hampden Park between these two clubs dictated neither could show their hand yesterday, thus some prodigious youngsters on both sides got worthwhile first-team experience.

As a gauge for the final, this was utterly useless. Celtic paraded the Premiership trophy as champions for the eighth consecutive time and gave a senior debut to the precocious 16-year-old Karamoko Dembele as a half-time substitute. The game’s most dominant player – 20-year-old Mikey Johnston – scored both their goals, with 19-year-old Ewan Henderson also impressive.

Hearts handed 19-year-old Andy Irving and 17-year-old Connor Smith game time in midfield, while 16-year-old Aaron Hickey started for the first time. All three proved themselves just as capable as their Celtic counterparts on an afternoon which carried positives and negatives for manager Craig Levein.

He has been trying to protect and preserve those carrying injuries for several weeks. Hence Uche Ikpeazu, Peter Haring and Arnaud Djoum are currently wrapped in cotton wool and in storage at Riccarton until the final. Knocks to midfielder Olly Lee, centre-back John Souttar and right-back Michael Smith were the last thing he wanted in Glasgow.

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Jake Mulraney’s equaliser on 17 minutes was a definite highlight after an error by the Celtic goalkeeper Scott Bain. Irving, Smith and Hickey all offered further encouragement by handling the intimidating surroundings despite their tender years.

Levein, though, must now wait to learn the extent of yet more injuries with five days until he leads his team out at Hampden. “I’d be guessing if I said how bad Olly is. It’s not good that he has gone back on again and had to come off. That’s never a positive sign,” admitted the manager after the Englishman was forced off 12 minutes into yesterday’s 2-1 loss.

“I don’t know but he’s twisted his knee, which doesn’t sound great. He wasn’t supposed to start today but Harry Cochrane became ill yesterday and wasn’t any better before the match. I put Olly in and he felt his knee. He tried again and still felt it. That’s one down side.

“Michael’s calves were tight, John Souttar’s groin was a bit sore at half-time so we did the same with him and took him off. Some of the kids had cramp, which is normal. I thought the kids did well and I was pleased with them. In general, we’ve been here and played a lot worse than that before. There is disappointment at losing the game and also Olly getting injured.”

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It was a meaningless affair with regards to the Premiership table, as is often the case of the final day of the campaign. Levein has long had one eye cast towards the cup final. “I wouldn’t say it was low-key but I’m sure there will be a lot more going on next week than there was today,” he said.

“We have a few on the sidelines – Uche, Peter and Arnaud. I’m hoping they will be fit for the game next week because they are three important players for us.”

There will be several contenders waiting to step in if they don’t make it. Some of them delivered a late reminder of their candidacy for a place at Hampden. “I was really pleased with Aaron Hickey, Andy Irving, and Connor Smith is going to be a fantastic player as well,” said Levein.

“I have to study the match to see what we can take out of it. We made changes last week and this week for the sole purpose of trying to get everyone fit and available for the final, so we will see what happens this week.”