Why there's no significant advantage for Hearts playing at Murrayfield

The Betfred Cup semi-final fiasco has transcended football this past week, with politicians and social commentators having their say on the mess.

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One such observer was independent website Bella Caledonia, who wrote on Twitter that moving the Hearts and Celtic fixture from Hampden to Murrayfield “without a new draw effectively hands home game to Hearts”.

Understandable, given the proximity between Tynecastle and the home of Scottish Rugby, not to mention the Gorgie Road side hosting four matches at the 67,000 capacity stadium last season.

Hearts players, including current stand-in captain John Souttar (left), walk off following defeat to Kilmarnock - the club's last fixture at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS

However, ask anyone of a maroon persuasion and they’ll tell you that Murrayfield, regardless of geographically proximity, still feels far from home in a football sense.

Last season, there was a stark contrast in form between the games played on the other side of the Western Approach Road and when Hearts were finally able to move into their newly refurbished Tynecastle Park ground.

Three goals, two defeats and one win from four games was all they could muster. Craig Levein’s men lost only three home games in the entire 2017/18 season and two of those came at Murrayfield.

It doesn’t make for better reading if you go back further. In the mid-noughties, Hearts played six European fixtures at Murrayfield to take advantage of the increased capacity and avoided defeat only twice.

There may be a sense of a familiarity, but it hasn’t translated to improving performances on the park. Furthermore, the identity of the side is vastly different from the teams who played there last term. From the starting XI which defeated St Johnstone last Saturday, only John Souttar, Michael Smith and Arnaud Djoum have experience of playing there in a Hearts jersey. By contrast, four Celtic players (Mikael Lustig, James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Leigh Griffiths) from the team who bettered Aberdeen 1-0 at the weekend have played for their club at Murrayfield, back when Ronny Deila took charge of two games along the M8 as Parkhead was being used for the Commonwealth Games.

Hearts are only as familiar with Murrayfield as Celtic are with Hampden. Brendan Rodgers’ team played at the national stadium four times last season. If Aberdeen and Rangers were to play at Murrayfield instead, does that effectively hand a home game to Celtic? No, of course not. They are merely getting a taste of what both Edinburgh clubs have had to do (almost) every time they reach the semi-finals or final of a national cup competition.

Celtic’s request for the venues to be drawn would have been the fairest solution. Neither Celtic or Rangers want to travel outside of Glasgow, while travelling to Murrayfield would be easier for Hearts fans (for Aberdeen supporters, by train, it’s six and two-threes).

However, now that Murrayfield has been chosen as the venue for Hearts v Celtic, let’s not pretend it hands a significant advantage to the underdogs.