Struggling Hearts face on-form Rangers in the Betfred Cup semi-final

Craig Levein takes his Hearts side west to Hampden Park this Sunday to meet Steven Gerrard’s Rangers team in the semi-final of the Betfred Cup. Both sides will be hoping to win a place in the final as neither has lifted silverware since 2012. 

Hearts won their place in the semi by knocking out Aberdeen on penalties after an enthralling 2-2 draw. Rangers were victorious in West Lothian defeating Livingston by a goal to nil. 

When the sides walk out at Hampden, Rangers will be overwhelming favourites to win the tie as they sit level at the top of the Scottish Premiership having only had one defeat this season – to their rivals Celtic. 

Hearts, meanwhile, are currently second bottom in the league. Last night, they lost 1-0 in Perth to St Johnstone, and they have only picked up 23 league points in the whole of 2019. However, the Jambos will take heart from the fact that they held Rangers to a draw in Gorgie a fortnight ago and should aim to use the same tactics they did on that occasion. This will mean a big day for talisman striker Uche Ikpeazu who was a handful for the Rangers defence in Edinburgh.

If Hearts can somehow make the most of Ikpeazu’s hold up play and get players beyond him, they may think that this will not be their last appearance at Hampden this season.

The Ibrox side go into this fixture on the back of a convincing 4-0 victory over Ross County in Dingwall, with Ryan Jack and Alfredo Morelos scoring braces.

Rangers, confident as they will be, are not going to overlook Hearts and will know what to expect. If the midfield – led by an inspired Ryan Jack – can make use of the width of the Hampden pitch, then it will allow for wingers Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo to try and enjoy their respective one-on-one match up against the defenders in maroon. If Jermain Defoe and Alfredo Morelos continue firing goals for fun then, this could turn into a very long Sunday afternoon for Levein’s men. 

They will be looking to break a hoodoo of sorts at this stage of the competition. In the past three seasons, Rangers have lost in the semi-final of the Betfred Cup, losing to Celtic, Motherwell and Aberdeen.

 

 

Heckingbottom ‘frustrated’ by Hibs performance despite snatching late draw against Livingston

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom said he was “frustrated” with his side’s first-half performance against Livingston after they were made to fight back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in the dying seconds on Wednesday night.

Martin Boyle’s 92nd minute equaliser ensured Hibs’ unbeaten run extended to six games, although the Edinburgh side are still without a league win since the opening day of the Premiership season in August.

Heckingbottom entered the game under mounting pressure after Hibs’ blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Ross County last weekend, but the roles were reversed on Wednesday as Hibs found themselves two goals down at half time before they came back in the second half.

“You feel different coming back from two down than you do drawing a game from two up, but the overriding feeling is frustration,” Heckingbottom said.

“It shouldn’t take tactical changes and bollockings to get people running about yet that’s what has been happening.

“All people want to see is a spirit and a drive and a determination and we saw that in the second half. And that’s why the fans were excellent with the players because that’s all they expect – that’s what any football fans want to see.

“I hope the players can take belief out of that because they’ve had it the other way around; being the dominant team to start with and looking like they’ve running away with the game just to give it away. So they’ve had to earn it. I’m over the moon for Martin Boyle for the work he has put in. But in the end my frustration is with our performance.”

Heckingbottom might have been minutes from the sack had the returning Boyle — who had been sidelined since July with a knee injury — not popped up with the equaliser in stoppage time.

Defeat would have left Hibs bottom of the Premiership table, and Heckingbottom again faced calls to be sacked from his own supporters after Livingston went 2-0 up at the end of the first half thanks to goals from Steven Lawless and Craig Sibbald.

Heckingbottom responded by bringing on a second striker in Florian Kamberi at the break and Hibs pulled a goal back on the hour mark through a penalty won and scored by midfielder Scott Allan.

Livingston’s Scott Tiffoney then missed a golden chance to wrap up the game for the visitors after he rounded Hibs’ goalkeeper Chris Maxwell but put his effort wide of the empty goal from only a few yards out.

Boyle then entered the game to a huge ovation with 10 minutes remaining and in stoppage time the striker burst through on goal before finishing past Livingston goalkeeper Matija Sarkic, who earlier had made an excellent save to deny Tom James.

The point takes Hibs up into 9th place in the Premiership table, above city rivals Hearts who are bottom after losing 1-0 to St Johnstone.

 

 

 

Europa League preview: Can Celtic and Rangers remain unbeaten?

Rangers and Celtic return to Europa League action on Thursday night looking to build on two impressive results in their opening group games. Adam Mackintosh previews. 

 

Young Boys vs Rangers

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has challenged his side to build on their opening Europa League victory against Feyenoord when they travel to Switzerland to take on Young Boys. They sit second in Group G behind Porto, who beat the Swiss champions 2-1 two weeks ago. Sheyi Ojo scored the only goal against Feyenoord Rangers have won their last three matches since that win, scoring ten goals and conceding none.

(Credit: Heather Miller)

Young Boys dropped into the Europa League after losing their Champions League play-off against Red Star Belgrade, going out on away goals after two draws. They are currently unbeaten in the Swiss league, sitting second on 19 points, three points behind leaders Basel. Cameroon international Jean-Pierre Nsame is their top scorer with nine goals, including one in their 3-2 win over Sion on Saturday.

For Rangers to improve on their performance of last season, where they finished third in their Europa League group, they must improve on their away form which saw them pick up just one point on the road. A trip to Bern is no easy feat with Young Boys taking points off Valencia and Juventus in the Champions League last season, beating the Italian champions 2-1 in December.

Ryan Kent, Jordan Jones and Joe Aribo remain out for the Ibrox side.

Celtic vs Cluj

Neil Lennon has said his side should use their defeat against Cluj in Champions League qualifying to power them to victory on Thursday night. Both sides started well in their European group with Celtic drawing 1-1 at French side Rennes two weeks ago, while Cluj defeated Italian giants Lazio 2-1.

Celtic come into the game after dropping their first points of the league season after drawing 1-1 with Hibernian on Saturday, with Ryan Christie equalising after a Kris Ajer own goal gave Hibs an early lead. Before Saturday, Celtic had won six successive domestic games since their humbling against Cluj.

Celtic were left frustrated at Easter Road on Sunday (Credit: Jamie Braidwood)

After drawing 1-1 in Transylvania, Celtic went into the second leg of the qualifier in control of the tie. In an eventful game where Celtic took the lead twice, Cluj scored two goals in the last ten minutes to take them through 5-4 on aggregate. The Romanians would go on to lose 2-0 on aggregate to the Czech champions Slavia Prague in the final round of Champions League qualifying.

One of the danger men for Cluj will be Frenchman Billel Omrani, who scored twice at Parkhead and scored the winner against Lazio in the first group game. He has 10 goals in 17 appearances so far this season.

Despite the result earlier on in the season, Celtic will go into this game as favourites as they look far more defensively settled than they did two months ago. Since the 4-3 defeat to Cluj in August, Celtic have conceded six goals in 10 games.

Mikey Johnston and Tom Rogic are doubts for the match, with Leigh Griffiths joining long-term absentees Jozo Simunovic and Daniel Arzani on the sidelines. Nir Bitton is back in contention for the first time since September 1.

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Liverpool triumph in Salzburg thriller, Spurs humiliated – Champions League Podcast

Liverpool came out on top in a Champions League classic at home to Red Bull Salzburg, after blowing a 3-0 lead at Anfield, then going back in front in a 4-3 win.

Tottenham Hotspur had vastly different luck, losing seven goals at home for the first time in their history to lose 7-2 at the hands of Bayern Munich.

Gregor Kerr, Adam Mackintosh and Grant Barnes picked the bones from the midweek action.

 

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Under-fire bosses meet in Hibs and Dons clash

The SPFL Premiership had already sent out two managers’ P45s by this time last season, so it’s no wonder the ‘sack race’ is gathering pace with the season’s second international break right around the corner.

The two favourites to be evicted from their posts meet head to head on Saturday, as Hibernian make the trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen. Both managers are feeling the pressure despite resting at opposite ends of the table. Two weeks ago, after a Edinburgh derby defeat, it appeared that there was no way back for Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom, fast forward one week and there’s another man in the hotseat.

Since arriving in the Granite City in 2013, Derek McInnes has led Aberdeen to 4 consecutive 2nd placed finishes, a League Cup win and 3 further cup final appearances. You would be forgiven for wondering why McInnes finds himself the bookies favourites to be the first managerial casualty of the season.

The Dons have had a stuttering start to the season which sees them lying in 4th place, 7 points off 2nd place Rangers. The rising gap between Aberdeen and the Old Firm has led to frustration from Dons fans, and the 5-0 hammering at Ibrox last weekend won’t have done McInnes any favours.

Since Rangers were promoted back to the Premiership, Aberdeen have struggled to gain a foothold in the fixtures against their bitter rivals, winning only 2 out of the last 12 against Steven Gerrard’s side. A poor record against both Rangers and Celtic, who Aberdeen have only beaten once in the last 3 seasons, has led to a revolt from Dons fans who believe that they should be challenging at the top of the table.

Heckingbottom only has one win against a top-six side in his time in Edinburgh (Credit: David Ronney)

 

Over in the capital, it’s been a different story for Heckingbottom’s Hibs. A miserable start to the season has the Hibees lying 11th in the table with the 2nd worst goal difference in the league. A 2-1 defeat to city rivals Hearts led many to believe the writing was on the wall for the former Barnsley gaffer. No player in the Hibs squad has scored more than one league goal this season, and they have struggled to replace some key losses in the summer, with the likes of Mark Milligan and Marc McNulty moving on.

A week is a long time in football however, and it seems the tide may be starting to turn at Easter Road, with a penalty shootout win against Kilmarnock means Hibs will be going to Hampden for a League Cup semi-final, and a spirited performance against Celtic last weekend has seen the mood lift at Easter Road after a drab performance in the Edinburgh Derby. It seemed there was no way back for Heckingbottom after the defeat.

With two teams at opposite ends of the table, Saturday’s game should be a polarizing affair. Hibs are yet to win away from home this season and Aberdeen will be looking to bounce back after a desperately poor performance against Rangers. Both managers are under the cosh and are in need of a big result, which will paint a clearer picture of both teams’ seasons after the international break.

 

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Hearts face Kilmarnock looking to build on positive week

From facing fan protests and being one game away from the sack following their 3-2 home defeat to Motherwell last month, Craig Levein and his Hearts side face Kilmarnock at Tynecastle on Saturday looking to build on an upturn of form.

Hearts find themselves go into this game on a run of three games unbeaten, including a vital derby win at Easter Road. Both Hearts and Kilmarnock were involved in stalemates in their last matches, with Levein’s side drawing at St Mirren and Killie drawing at home to Ross County.

Both meetings between the sides at Tynecastle last season finished in 1-0 victories for the away side and all four meetings between the sides ended in away victories last season.

Kilmarnock have stabilised after a disastrous start for new manager Angelo Alessio, which saw them crash out of Europa League qualifying to Welsh side Connah’s Quay Nomads. Sitting seventh in the league, two points ahead of Hearts, Killie are facing a striker crisis for Saturday with both Eamonn Brophy and former Hearts man Osman Sow doubtful due to injury.

For a team that has scored just five goals in their first seven league games, that is a worry of the Rugby Park side.

Hearts are yet to win at Tynecastle Park in the league this season (Credit: Neil McGlashan)

Hearts themselves are in the midst of their own injury crisis with Craig Halkett ruled out for at least eight weeks, though the injury may not as bad as first feared. He joins key players such as Peter Haring and Steven Naismith on the sidelines.

Naismith is aiming for the Rangers match on October 20 for his return to action and has said that Hearts need to “push on” and improve their form.

Speaking on Radio Scotland’s Sportsound, Naismith said “We play Kilmarnock and then after break, we need to push on and start picking up results. Where we are sitting now is far from ideal.”

“The individual mistakes have been crazy. Six or seven of the goals we’ve lost have been from unforced errors.” he added.

Japanese loanee Ryotaro Meshino is looking to continue his good form since arriving in Edinburgh on loan from English champions Manchester City. He has been the bright spot in a disappointing season so far for the Jambos, scoring his debut goal against Motherwell.

Meshino has impressed since joining from Manchester City on loan (Credit: Gregor Kerr)

Much of Hearts’ success in recent years has been built on strong home form but they are yet to win at Tynecastle in the league so far this season. They will be looking to put that right on Saturday and break the recent trend of away wins in this fixture.

Ross County’s Mullin excited by season so far – Podcast

 

Copy of BREAKING NEWS-2

Flying high at the top of the Scottish Championship, Ross County have turned their fortunes around this season after last year’s relegation from the Premiership.

One of the team’s shining players this season, Josh Mullin speaks exclusively to EN4 News ahead of three matches in the next week for the title chasers.

Listen to the podcast below:

Jonny Gray set to make 50th cap for Scotland

Jonny Gray

Gray excited for Wales clash (Credit: David Ronney)

Glasgow Warriors lock, Jonny Gray will start against Wales on Saturday and will join an illustrious club of players who have racked up a half century of caps for Scotland rugby team.

The 24-year-old made his first full debut for the national side back in November 2013 and since then has impressed spectators with a number of solid performances. He is quickly catching up with older brother, Richie Gray, who has 62 national caps and one for the British and Irish Lions.

So far this tournament Jonny Gray has played 134 minutes making 15 carries and 37 tackles as part of the first line of defence against Ireland and France.

Jonny Gray is proud of his achievments but was quick to emphasise the weekends match will be a team effort. Wales are currently the only unbeaten team in this years Six Nations tournamnet.

“It’s not about me. This week is huge, last week was very tough to take.

“To be here is such a special feeling. It’s something I never thought that I would do when I was younger. To be here I’m very lucky.”

Even though Scotland can no longer challenge for the championship title, Gray insisted that playing for the country was an honour.

“When you are playing for Scotland there is always something to play for.”

 

“All about the football”: Taking a look at the women’s game in Scotland

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Edinburgh Caledonia celebrate scoring against Bonnyrigg Rose (Credit: SWF)

Women have long toiled to be recognised in the football world, but the tide is finally turning in their favour.

Women’s football has been around longer than you might expect. The first ever male international football match – Scotland versus England – was played in 1872. Only nine years later, the match was replicated, but only this time it was the women’s turn to play.

Between the two world wars, the Football Associations of Scotland and England banned the women’s game. The reasoning behind the ban is supposedly because the sport was considered ‘unfeminine.’ It’s enough to make your blood boil today, but such were the times. The tyrannical ban on the ladies’ sport forced teams underground as they sought out non-Scottish Football Association affiliated pitches to play on.

It wasn’t until between late 60s and early 70s that England and Scotland lifted their bans, reforming the inclusion of women into Football Associations.

Since then, ladies’ football has steadily grown in popularity and has started to gain more recognition in the mainstream media. The FA Women’s Super League (WSL) in England and The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the US have garnered a great deal of recognition, attracting substantial financial backing from both advertising and endorsements as well as government funding.

In the WSL, many players are starting to rake in salaries reaching £60,000. The highest earner in women’s soccer, Alex Morgan, who plays for Portland Thorns in the NWSL, earns £1.9 million a year, including sponsorships and endorsements.

These figures are dwarfed, however, by the stratospheric incomes of male footballers even compared to the rates of standard workplace pay gaps, but it is still an enormous step in the right direction.

Scotland is still catching up with the rest of the world in fashioning a professional women’s football.

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(From left to right): Kim Dallas, Alba Losada, Sammy Hyett and Emma O’Sullivan ready for training (Credit: SWF)

Sammy Hyett is the founder, chairman and captain of Edinburgh Caledonia FC, a women’s football team in the South East Second Division of the Scottish Women’s Football League. She started practising when she was just four because there was no space left in gymnastics.

“It all started because there was available space,” Hyett says. “But, it became a bit of a novelty because there weren’t any other girls and when you were young nobody really minded if you were playing with the boys.”

The midfielder turned down a professional football scholarship in the US because she was expected to coach when she just wanted to play.

“I picked Heriot-Watt [University] because of the Hearts academy that’s there, I went along to the fresher’s football day and there were about 100 people there and I was the only girl.

“They obviously didn’t have a women’s football team then so they said I could come along and train, but I could be the best there and they still wouldn’t treat me the same. This was back in 2004, there weren’t options, I wasn’t going to get the same opportunities… so I started my own team.”

Hyett had a series of injuries after university, which stopped her from playing. She decided to build a women’s branch of the all-male Football Club of Edinburgh. Before long she took her team on a new path and formed Edinburgh Caledonia.

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Edinburgh Caledonia FC (Credit: SWF)

Edinburgh Caledonia FC

“The SWFA have always said they want to be defined as the women’s section separate to the men,” Hyett explains.

“They’ve always seen it as a hurdle to cross, that they have to prove themselves to the men and there seems to be this stigma and we felt that about being with the guys’ club, so we left”

She adds: “I would’ve given anything to play professionally and I had the chance, my twin and I were offered to play for Ross County professionally, but we were offered a minimal amount a week to live off and we couldn’t because I had to work. That was the only opportunity in Scotland at the time.”

People like Hyett have laid the foundation for the new generation of talented female footballers to realise their talents and be recognised on the world stage.

Hyett says: “It’s always been about the football, I genuinely don’t know what I would do without a football at my feet.”

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Kim Dallas breezes past Dundee City player (Credit: SWF)

Edinburgh Caledonia has begun their season perfectly, currently sitting top of their division after two games, scoring 22 goals and conceding nil. Hyett and her squad are aiming for promotion to the SWFL 1 where they would be up against the likes of Celtic Academy and Rangers Development.

The Scottish Women’s National Football Team are also on a high. This season, they have been funded by the Scottish government for the first time which means the players have been able to train full-time as they prepare for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France this summer.

There, the women’s team of Scotland and England will face each other once again, 138 years after they first met on a pitch, but now in a very different world.

 

Levein’s “fingers crossed” over Naismith’s injury

Craig Levein

Craig Levein will be without Steven Naismith for the second time this season. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hearts star striker Steven Naismith has been ruled out for 10 weeks after requiring surgery on his knee. He was substituted in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last weekend in what would turn out to be his second major setback of this season.

He goes for his operation on Monday next week, however, his manager Craig Levein has not ruled out the possibility that he will return before the end of the season should Hearts make it to the Scottish Cup final.

He said: “I hope so, he came back from injury really quickly last time so fingers crossed it will be the same again. It is unfortunate for him and for us at the club too because we have a lot of big games ahead.”

Levein has voiced his empathy for Naismith, who will not only miss the majority of the club season, but potentially the European Championship play offs at the end of the season. The 32 year old would have most likely been a starter for Alex McLeish’s Scotland side who play Kazakstan and San Marino in the summer.

He said: “It is not only a shame for Hearts. He is also sitting on 49 caps and should be getting his 50th in a couple of months. He is a player whose generation has missed out on getting to major finals with Scotland and there is a chance that could happen this time. So I feel sorry for him as he has worked ever so hard to get back from his last injury.”

Steven Naismith was forced off in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last week (Credit: SNS Group)

However, despite their form dipping the last time they were without Naismith, the Hearts boss is more confident in his squad at this stage of the season.

“When he was out previously we had a shortage of strikers. Craig Wighton is bak fully fit again after his ankle problem and we have also got David Vanecek back with us as well as Uche [Ikpeazu]. So it is a different situation altogether and I don’t feel nearly as anxious as earlier on in the season when we had to deal without Steven in the team.”

Hearts play Dundee away in the league on Saturday as their hunt for Europe continues as they currently sit in fifth place and three points off Kilmarnock. Craig Levein will be hopeful that his side can claim all three points against the team currently a point from bottom in the table.

 

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