Just why is the League Cup half full for Hearts?

UNLESS you’ve been ensconced on the moon for several years, you’ll be familiar with the chant. “Big team big cup, wee team, wee cup.” Hearts fans taunt Hibs counterparts with it at derbies, work, school, in the street and, of course, on the internet.

Prioritising the Scottish Cup over the League Cup isn’t an intentional thing at Tynecastle. Certainly not this season. However, the fact remains Hearts have won the “big cup” five times since their closest rivals last lifted it in 1902. Hibs, meanwhile, have developed an affiliation with the “wee cup”, or League Cup as it’s better known. They have won it three times since Hearts’ last success in 1962. In that time, the Tynecastle club have lost five semi-finals in the same competition.

Which brings us nicely to this weekend. Hearts face Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the semi-final of the Scottish Communities League Cup. For an added twist, the tie takes place at Easter Road, with Hibs having been eliminated at the second-round stage by Queen of the South. The motivation to reach the final of a tournament regarded as more synonymous with Hibs by winning on Hibs’ own ground cannot be underestimated from a Hearts’ point of view.

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There remains the question of why Tynecastle has not been adorned by the League Cup in more than half a century. John Colquhoun enjoyed two spells as a Hearts player during a 
17-year career but could not help the club to success in Scotland’s second national cup competition. He admits being perplexed about the reasons.

“Hearts seem to be really excited by the Scottish Cup, and of course you have the Hearts-Hibs thing about the big cup and the wee cup,” he said. “Hearts have really had motivation in the Scottish Cup, whether that’s right or wrong. I’m sure it’s not a planned thing or an intentional thing. It won’t be a motivational thing from the players or the staff because they would want to win any cup. It’s an unbelievable experience for a professional footballer.

“I don’t think at any point that Hearts have taken the League Cup lightly, but sometimes the motivation seems be different in the Scottish Cup. I don’t know the reason for that. As I player I know that, you would be up for it more against Celtic than you would be against Montrose. That’s just human nature.

“It may be that the mentality of Hearts is: ‘It’s the Scottish Cup. Let’s go. We really need a result today.’ Whereas in the League Cup it’s just not as 
focused as that. As I said, I don’t know the true answer but that’s what it looks like to me as an outsider.”

Colquhoun believes playing at Easter Road, where almost three quarters of the crowd will be decked in maroon, offers
Hearts a prime chance to reach the final against either 
St Mirren or Celtic.

“I think it’s a really sensible decision to play the game at Easter Road, where it will be full and it will be jumping. To play a semi-final in a big old ground which would be half-empty even with the same crowd doesn’t have the same appeal for me. It would be echoing with people rattling around inside the stadium. I think playing at Easter Road is a great decision by the authorities.

“It’s good for the Hearts fans and it’s an enormous help to the players. In cup competitions, I sometimes see supporters come along and wait for players to excite them, then they engage in the game. In the big cup games and derbies, I’d say it’s the other way about. Fans go along and really get involved from the off and players feed off that.

“If there are three stands full of Hearts supporters it will make a massive difference against Inverness and it will drive the players on. Winning at the home of Hibs would be massive for the supporters, but the most important thing is to get through to the final.”

As a distinguished winger himself, it is no surprise Colquhoun wants Hearts to exploit the wide open spaces of Easter Road. He feels wide players offer manager John McGlynn the best chance of reaching the final.

“As someone who played a lot of my time on the wing, I don’t think there’s anything better than watching a winger, whether it be Ronaldo or a traditional wide man who gets fans off their seats. There aren’t many better sights in the game,” he said.

“Callum Paterson is more of a wide midfielder but Jamie Walker excites me. Further down the line you have Sam 
Nicholson coming through. Arvydas Novikovas is a typical winger – a bit up and down but can really excite people when he comes in off the wing. There’s also Andy Driver who has been playing regularly.

“Alex MacDonald always used to say that if he got one good game in four from a winger then that’s all he looked for because that’s all they would ever do. If you played two good games out of three, it made you world-class.

“I was notoriously inconsistent and there are a variety of reasons for that. One is getting the supply, which was always our excuse. The second thing is it’s easier not to influence a game than to influence it if things are going against you.

“I hope Hearts go with wingers on Saturday. I always want to see wingers. I know Inverness are near the top of the league and are flying. Terry Butcher has them well structured and they’re an exciting team. I still believe Hearts should be able to go and dominate Inverness, play their own game and make Inverness adjust. I hope they have a real go.”