Hearts 1-0 Livingston: Sean Clare fires Hearts into fifth round

The late, great Freddie Glidden, the man who held the Scottish Cup aloft for Hearts in 1956, adorned the front cover of the match programme. Happily for Hearts, there remains every chance they will be conducting the ideal tribute to Glidden in the form of current skipper, Christophe Berra, doing likewise this season.

Sean Clare celebrates after giving Hearts the lead.
Sean Clare celebrates after giving Hearts the lead.

Glidden, who passed away at the start of this month at the age of 91, was remembered in fitting style in the publication. His portrait filled the front page and there was an in-depth look at his life and football career, which as well as the Scottish Cup included a League Cup win over Motherwell in 1954, the Tynecastle club’s first major honour in 48 years.

Hearts remain on track to lift silverware this season thanks to Sean Clare’s first goal for the club. It sets up a fifth-found re-match with Auchinleck Talbot, the lowest-ranked team left in the competition and narrow losers at Tynecastle in a fourth-round tie seven years ago. Hearts went on to win the cup that year with a never-to-be-forgotten 5-1 victory over Hibs.

They have now been handed a golden opportunity to reach the last eight and will feel they deserve it having negotiated one of the toughest tasks of all those presented by the fourth-round draw. Livingston had, of course, beaten Hearts 5-0 in their last meeting just over five weeks ago.

So revenge, even in this less spectacular guise, was sweet, if barely deserved. Even the most one-eyed Hearts fan will accept their side’s involvement in this year’s tournament could easily have ended at the first hurdle yesterday. As expected, Livingston made it hard for Hearts, whose victory was secured by the player few were talking about amid excitement over David Vanecek’s long awaited debut.

However, this was to overlook evidence Clare is adapting to the Scottish game, the most persuasive example of which was his effective performance in his side’s last outing before the winter break – a 1-0 win over Hibs. The English attacking midfielder might have feared being cast as a bit-part player following Vanecek’s arrival from FK Teplice but, playing in a role slightly behind the big Czech striker, Clare finally made his mark in his 14th game for Hearts.

It was a goal worth waiting for. The 22 year-old needed only a glimpse of the far corner of Liam Kelly’s net and curled in a shot from the edge of the box following a crisp move involving Steven Naismith and Vanecek, inset left, three minutes into the second-half.

There was no strike to crown Vanecek’s much-anticipated debut but he did collect his first assist and showed his worth as someone willing and able to hold the ball up, abilities Hearts have been crying out for.

His touch appeared heavy at times but then this was to be expected from someone who has been parachuted into the Scottish game. His last competitive match was also as long ago as late November.

Lasting the 90 minutes was success in itself and he was still drawing fouls at the death. Early verdict: awkward, uncompromising and happy to do the dirty work. If he can add goals, as he surely will, then he will be an undoubted asset to Craig Levein’s team in the second part of the season.

Livi will lament failing to capitalise on a first half when they were the better team. Backed by a noisy few hundred fans, they emerged the more dangerous of the sides after a cagey opening spell played out against a surprising number of empty seats in the home stands. Ryan Hardie, the returning loanee from Rangers,

flashed a header just wide from

Keaghan Jacobs’ corner just after the half-hour mark.

A couple of minutes earlier Dolly Menga’s effort was deflected wide by Michael Smith after the Livingston player had managed to keep his feet following a wild Naismith challenge. The Hearts player miraculously

escaped being cautioned. Indeed, there was only one booking all afternoon: Shaun Byrne for an equally late tackle on Calumn Morrison.

This is not to question commitment levels. An often end-to-end, if scrappy,

cup tie, there was no quarter given. Hearts prevailed largely because they were quickest to settle back into a rhythm following the interval. The lead gained from Clare’s strike might have been doubled shortly afterwards but Morrison saw his shot cleared off the line by Craig Halkett after goalkeeper Kelly spilled a cross.

This would have been meant Hearts avoiding living quite so much on the edge as the game wore on. Winger Gregg Wylde, on his debut for Livingston after signing from Plymouth Argyle, should have equalised when the ball broke kindly for him on the edge of the box with half an hour left. However, he blazed his left-foot

effort high over when what he really needed to do was steer the ball into either corner.

A Steven Lawless drive went just wide after 75 minutes as the visitors upped the tempo in a bid to secure a replay at least. Berra’s block from the same player with four minutes left demonstrated the desire within the home side to hold on to what they had, with chances at the other end having seemingly dried up.

Clare had already been granted a deserved ovation while being replaced by Ollie Bozanic on 79 minutes. It’s maybe taken longer than he would have liked but Clare’s proving his worth at just the right time in view of Hearts’ improved range of attacking options. In addition to Vanecek, a tireless worker throughout, the return from injury of Uche Ikpeazu, who started the season as principal striker, is now edging nearer.