Steven MacLean wants to end Hearts' league cup hoodoo
MacLean, 35, wrote his name into Saintees folklore in 2014 when he found the net in their 2-0 Scottish Cup final triumph over Dundee United, helping the Perth outfit win the first piece of major silverware in their 130-year history.
Hearts have endured no such droughts in that tournament – winning it three times in the last two decades – however their League Cup record is becoming something of a millstone for the capital club.
They last lifted the trophy in 1962 when a solitary Norrie Davidson strike proved enough to see off Kilmarnock at Hampden – and MacLean is adamant that is not good enough for the Gorgie men.
“I still feel like I’ve got a couple more trophies in me,” smiled MacLean. “When we were at St Johnstone, it was the first major trophy in 130 years so you are thinking ‘this might not happen again in my lifetime’.
“But, moving to Hearts, you see the history of the club and how often they have won cup competitions and you know there is a chance.
“I look at the squad the manager is building and the young players here and think ‘it could be our year’. However, it’s only our year if we go and make it happen – and we need to do the business on Saturday.
“With it being 56 years since Hearts won this tournament, it is about time we started doing better. If you get through the group phase, you are only three games away from a final and, with a bit of luck and a good draw, it’s all possible.
“But you’ve got to do the dirty work in the early rounds to get to the stage you want to be on. You need to grind out wins and get results against difficult opposition, and so-called lower teams, if you want to reach that aspiration of getting to finals.”
Hearts’ 5-0 hammering of Cowdenbeath on Tuesday night was enough to redress the goal difference between themselves and Inverness, ensuring that any victory for the Gorgie club tomorrow will see them leapfrog the Highlanders to qualify from Group C.
MacLean concedes the squad would have “bitten your hand off” for this scenario on Monday morning when an SPFL hearing convened to rule on their punishment for fielding the ineligible Andy Irving against Cove Rangers.
“It is a must-win – and that’s something we would have taken, looking back at the points getting taken off us,” continued MacLean. “We all sat at Riccarton on Monday morning and there was a real fear that it could be taken out of our hands.
“The boys were talking about how the [Cove] win could get taken off us, could be replayed or just a fine; there was uncertainty there. So, we would have bitten your hand off for this situation at the time, particularly beating Cowdenbeath 5-0 and making sure all we need to do is win – rather than rack up two or three and worrying about goal difference.”
Meanwhile, Hearts boss Craig Levein has told Ross Callachan he is free to find a new club after he slipped down the pecking order at Tynecastle.
The boyhood Hearts fan, pictured inset, made 25 appearances last term after joining the club from Raith Rovers on a two-year deal, finding the net four times.
However, the arrivals of Olly Lee, Oliver Bozanic and Ryan Edwards, allied with the continued progress of Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald have seen him slip out of the first-team picture and the combative midfielder is yet to feature this term.
Levein has revealed that Hearts have already fielded several enquiries for the player and will not stand in his way. “Ross wants to play every week and we’ve had a conversation with his agent, who is speaking to a number of clubs,” said Levein. “I can’t guarantee him a first-team spot so his agent’s trying to find him something else. I think that’s only fair.
“He wants to play every week and I don’t want to be holding him back if he maybe feels he needs to go somewhere to get regular first-team football. It’s a normal situation.
“I don’t know if it will be a loan or permanent – I’m relaxed about that.”