As he prepared to rest some of his more experienced players for the Scottish Cup fourth round tie at Tynecastle, the manager laid down a challenge to their potential replacements.
Hearts are enjoying a prosperous period on the field at present, with three wins and a draw recorded in their last four outings. They are overwhelming favourites for the visit of the Ayrshire Junior side but Sergio is keen for his players to maintain their appetite and focus.
He insisted Auchinleck should be treated the same way as Celtic and Rangers in order to esnure Hearts reach the next round of the cup. “When you have a good mentality, it shouldn’t change every weekend,” said the Portuguese.
“It doesn’t matter the name of our opponents, I want my players to play like they are playing against Celtic or Rangers. We have to respect ourselves first, then ask for respect from the others. We have an identity and a philosophy for the games and today is no different. No matter who is on the pitch, the players have to show me they want to be on the pitch next weekend too.”
Jamie MacDonald, Darren Barr, John Sutton, and Andy Driver are all in contention to start the match. “I have some players who are champions and are struggling with physical problems. Maybe I will try to save some of them,” said Sergio. “All the others who are ready are going to be on the pitch.”
Sergio knows little about Auchinleck but has been thorough in his preparation for today’s match. “I know it’s a team from a lower division. I watched a DVD of them because I respect my opponents,” he explained.
“I didn’t go on holiday this week because I had an opponent to study and I do my job. I don’t know where Auchinleck is. I know it’s a small village. Maybe after the game they will invite me to go there and I will get to know the place.”
Hearts have accepted the two-match suspension offered to Ryan McGowan for violent conduct during Monday’s Edinburgh derby. The Australian defender was issued the ban by the Scottish Football Association for pushing his head into the Hibs winger Ivan Sproule and is now suspended for today’s match plus next weekend’s SPL encounter with St Mirren.
“I have to play by the rules. I have to try to be clever,” explained Sergio when asked whether he might appeal. “It’s better for me to accept (the punishment) than to fight.
“I think everybody understands why. He only misses one SPL game. That doesn’t mean I agree.”