3 Scottish Cup Backstories Ahead Of Tomorrow’s Game & How Hearts Can Win Vs Lennon’s Celtic

Robbie Neilson
Heart of Midlothian v Dundee SPFL Championship 16/10/2020. Heart of Midlothian manager Robbie Neilson gestures during the SPFL Championship match between Heart of Midlothian and Dundee at Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh, Scotland on 16 October 2020. PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK , Copyright: xMalcolmxMackenziex PSI-10808-0031

The 2006 trio

How fitting that 3 players who were involved in Hearts’ 2006 Scottish cup victory over Gretna are going to be at the core of tomorrow’s match with Celtic, 14 and a half years later. Craig Gordon is the obvious standout and one who will end up having the biggest role in keeping out ultra favourites Celtic from lifting their 4th treble. Make no mistake; Hearts are going to have a busy day in front of their goal tomorrow.

Christophe Berra will be in front of the Hearts number one, and it is the 35-year-old’s creaky legs that have had Jam Tarts fans worried the most ahead of facing the pace of Odsonne Edouard. A cup win for the centre half would be the ultimate redemption story after it looked as though his Hearts career was brusquely ended a year ago.

Robbie Neilson, of course, will be the brains behind the plot to overthrow the all-powerful Bhoys. Neilson was a regular cog of the magnificent 2005-06 side, producing a match-saving tackle on Gretna’s David Graham, who was clean through on goal. The 40-year-old has already stated that leading the Jam Tarts out at Hampden will be the highlight of his management career. Winning it would be the icing on the cake for a man who holds the club so dear to his heart.

Andy Halliday

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – MARCH 31: Scott Brown and Scott Bain of Celtic are confronted by Andy Halliday of Rangers at the final whistle during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on March 31, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

He was known as Mr Rangers. Having left the club in the summer, the media-friendly midfielder will be salivating at the prospect of facing his boyhood rivals. The worry for Neilson might be that he is too fired up when facing Celtic. Halliday could prove to be a handy option to add drive and bite to the middle of the park and erase the difficult memory of losing to Hibs in 2016 final. It will be fascinating to see whether Halliday or Irving start alongside Peter Haring. Either way, expect to see him at some point during the match. Any coming together with Scott Brown or Shane Duffy is certain to be popcorn worthy.

The relegation nightmare

What a rotten year for Hearts fans. Poor performances until March before the ultimate kicking from the members of the SPFL which led to a summer of torment. It took the terrific semi-final win over Hibs on Halloween to finally offer Jambos some 2020 cheer.

A Scottish Cup win would drastically change all that. Even without a win on Sunday, the club are on course now to win the Championship and go back up at the first attempt. Realistically, if the club go up next season, they should be looking to finish in the top 4 or 5 in the league. Neilson may not play the most entertaining brand of football; however, he is a safe pair of hands who is proven at both levels of the Scottish game. A cup win would be a mammoth step to wiping clean the bitterness that has flooded the hearts of supporters in Gorgie.

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Despite Celtic’s recent shaky form, Hearts still go in as the massive underdogs, but their players will be happy about this. Make no mistake; this is a free hit. It is a cup final in a competition that should not be still getting played. Regardless, it is still another Scottish Cup final. Celtic have the opportunity to make history, build momentum for the second half of the season, and rediscover their pride in what has been a shambles of a season to observe from afar. If Hearts can somehow engineer a win against Celtic, it would rank up there with 1998 as a special cup final win.

Josh Ginnelly of Hearts
Heart of Midlothian v Queen of the South SPFL Championship 12/12/2020. GOAL 6-1 Josh Ginnelly 30 of Heart of Midlothian FC is all smiles as he celebrates with Andy Halliday 16 of Heart of Midlothian FC after scoring Hearts 6th goal during the SPFL Championship match between Heart of Midlothian and Queen of the South at Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh, Scotland on 12 December 2020. Editorial use only PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK , Copyright: xMalcolmxMackenziex PSI-11371-0036

How Hearts Can Win Vs Lennon’s Celtic

Quite simply, why not go for it? Hearts must attack the Scottish champions. With Josh Ginnelly back fit, whilst looking every bit as agile and tricky as fans remember pre-injury, Hearts have every chance to at least lay a glove on Celtic. Naismith, Boyce, Walker and Ginnelly are all capable of scoring at Hampden on Sunday. It’s likely at least 3 of those will start. Who operates behind them is the issue to ponder.

Neilson’s favourite 3 midfield players at the moment appear to be Olly Lee, Andy Irving and Peter Haring. Haring had a groin concern on Saturday which ensured he didn’t get minutes versus Queens, as Neilson didn’t want to risk him for the cup final. Hearts fans will vividly recall the Austrian’s display in the 2-1 cup final defeat in 2019.

When Haring was subbed off, Hearts looked much shakier. He will want to make amends this Sunday and should be straight on the team sheet. It becomes a question of Andy or Olly to start alongside him. Irving will have every right to feel aggrieved if he doesn’t start on Sunday after one of his best performances since breaking through in Gorgie. Olly Lee will also feel the same. Both were superb against Queens and played their part in the goals.

The alternative is Neilson starts both Irving and Olly Lee, with Lee operating on the right-hand side instead of the pacy Ginnelly. The Hearts number 8 has grown into this role and is starting to become effective out wide. Lee set up Boyce’s header on Saturday, assisted Boyce against Inverness in a delightful move, whilst also crossed on to Craig Wighton’s head in the memorable opener against Hibs in the semi-final. He is a player who keeps the ball well, knits play together in small one-twos, and particularly seems to enjoy playing alongside Michael Smith on the right. They are developing a spot of telepathy on the flanks. Lee is not your typical by-line winger, but this might prove to be an advantage against Celtic, who may be unsure who to follow with so many attacking midfield options.

It’s all up for grabs then. Hearts fans can relax ahead of the final on Sunday. The usual build-up and fanfare will be sadly lacking, but no doubt the nerves will begin to jangle around the morning of the match.