After he named him among the substitutes for last week’s win over Dundee, Craig Levein explained he wanted a fresh Kyle Lafferty for the upcoming clash with Celtic. It was a match Levein sensed the former Rangers striker would “relish”.
Lafferty certainly vindicated his manager by scoring the crucial second goal in Hearts’ historic 4-0 win, which he later described as being among his most satisfying against Celtic. “I have been lucky enough to have been on a winning side a few times against Celtic but this win is right up there as one of the best,” said Lafferty.
Afterwards Lafferty thanked owner Ann Budge and manager Craig Levein for standing by him after he opened up about a long-standing gambling addiction in an interview in September.
Despite these off-field concerns, Lafferty has continued doing what he was brought to Tynecastle to do, scoring twice in his last three appearances after overcoming a virus after taking his season’s tally to 11. Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers admitted his centre-back pairing of Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic could not handle the Northern Irish striker in the first half yesterday. Lafferty felt he could get change against the defenders, who he claimed always have mistakes in them.
“Obviously, they are great centre-halves, but I knew that when you are up against them and put them under pressure there are mistakes in them,” he said. “I have done that, got a goal and gave other people chances as well.
“I am happy with my performance but don’t take anything away from every single player on the pitch. From the goalkeeper up to Cole [Stockton] when he came on, it was a brilliant performance.”
Special mention has to be made of Harry Cochrane, the 16-year-old who scored Hearts’ opener after 26 minutes. Lafferty noted the teenager’s man of the match award – a bottle of champagne – can’t be enjoyed by Cochrane himself, since it’s a while until he reaches 18.
“I watched him speaking downstairs where he collected a bottle of champagne,” said Lafferty. “He’s too young to drink it! He couldn’t speak because he is shocked. But that’s Harry. He doesn’t say a lot.
“He is a brilliant young player. I spoke to him before the game and said these were the matches you have to make a name for yourself. What a way to do it.
“I think he is probably one of the best young players I have seen,” Lafferty added. “When I came into Hearts, he was training with the first team. He got an injury at the start of the season but worked hard and was in the gym. To be honest, I think he forgot to put the weights on the bars!
“No, he is going to be an exceptional player. Hearts have developed a few amazing young players down the years, even when I was at Rangers I saw it. Harry is going to be up there. If Hearts can keep hold of him for a long time, they will do well.”
As for the personal problems that have dogged Lafferty’s first season at Hearts, he admitted “it’s been difficult” as he attempts to overcome a serious addiction to gambling. “Obviously I have come out and spoken about my gambling after hiding it for ten to 12 years,” he said.
“I have got good people around me,” he added. “My wife, Vanessa, has been beside me 110 per cent. At this club, even I have been shocked by how much they are behind me. Ann Budge has been absolutely superb with me. [Assistant manager] Austin MacPhee has been the same and the gaffer has been brilliant, too.
“I was a bit afraid to come out in case it affected my relationship with the club or the owner, but they have been 110 per cent behind me. That has made it a lot easier. I know I am in the right place.”