Hearts boss taking Auchinleck cup tie “very seriously”

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Levein is aware of Auchinleck’s threat (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian Craig Levein has insisted he’s taking Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinlek Talbot “very seriously.”

Auchinleck play in the junior leagues whilst Hearts are a Scottish Premiership side, but Levein was quick to dismiss talk that Auchinleck would be an easy opponent and insisted he’s treating the game like any other.

“It is a cup competition – only one of three major trophies available in this country – so of course we are taking it very seriously,” he said.

“I am looking forward to it. It is an unusual match to be pitched against a team in junior football. Having played in junior football myself I know that there is a lot of good players at that level.”

Hearts and Auchinleck have history, with the two clubs meeting in the same competition in 2012. Auchinleck won that tie 1-0, and Levein is more than aware that history could repeat itself.

 “I think that is exactly how the game could pan out if we do not move the ball quickly enough,” he commented.

“We are a level above where they are at the moment. But they are a team that find a way to win week in, week out and that is dangerous.

“Obviously there is no pressure on Auchinleck to get anything out of this game so perhaps that could be an advantage for them, but I have been to see their match last week and I know how they play so we don’t have any excuses to not be prepared for Sunday.”

Ikpeazu keen to make up for “lost time”

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Ikpeazu is delighted to get back playing after a five month injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Uche Ikpeazu is keen to make up “for lost time” after returning from a foot injury against Livingston on Wednesday night.

Ahead of Hearts’ Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinleck Talbot, Ikpeazu admitted he is “focusing on having a good end to the season” after missing the last five months.

“As a footballer, nobody wants to be injured, but unfortunately it is part and parcel and we have had a few of them this season,” he said.

“It’s been tough but I’ve worked really hard, now I am focused on having a good end to the season and making up for lost time.”

“I’ve had a few operations in my time and obviously after it, the foot can take a lot of time to heal and even then it may not be the same. It is a testament to the hard work and the fantastic facilities at Hearts that have helped me make a strong recovery.”

 

Ikpeazu’s injury was one of several for Hearts this season, with defenders Christophe Berra and John Souttar also missing several months with their own woes.

“We had so many injuries that happened all of a sudden last year, we were all working together to get fit and encourage each other on a day to day basis. We are all back now and it helped that I wasn’t alone.

“It was frustrating being on the sidelines and seeing the team struggle, especially with the great start we had to the season.

“I still maintain that if we kept everyone fit we could be right up there, even without all our players we are still not far off and now it is about making the best of the end of the season.”

Ikpeazu admitted that the supporters “have been massive” to him during his time out, and helped keep him motivated.

“Coming on and hearing the cheers was really good and it motivates me. I know the best is yet to come.

“The fans have been massive to me, even when I was injured. A couple of days of my operation I was receiving messages saying they can’t wait to have me back, that means so much and it motivated me even more to get back quicker.”

Hearts boss sticks Vanecek on new fitness program following criticism

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Hearts boss took David Vanecek off after half an hour against Dundee and publicly criticised the striker post match. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

Hearts manager, Craig Levein has put striker, David Vanecek on a new fitness program following his withdraw just half an hour into Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at home to Dundee.

Vanecek played the entirety of the Scottish Cup win against Livingston but was hung out to dry after his manager labelled his performance against Dundee as “rubbish”.

Levein defended his comments regarding the Czech player saying he felt speaking publicly about his fitness issues would mean his message would get across. He said: “Let’s say he finished in November and he obviously hasn’t done any work, between then and joining us which frustrates me. The best time to buy him out of any problems is soon as they arrive and I felt that it’s really important that he knows why he’s under performed on the night. And also didn’t do enough in the Livingston game either to do what we need him to do.

“I think the important thing is he knows that to play in Scottish football. People might think it’s easy but it’s not. They know the competitive nature of the matches means you have to be fit.

Craig Levein

Craig Levein was all smiles ahead of Hearts’ match against in-form St Johnstone this weekend. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

“He apologised yesterday. He’s on a programme to improve his fitness and hopefully I don’t need to speak to him again.”

The defeat to relegation strugglers was the first in four matches but focus now turns to St Johnstone who have won their last four matches, failing to concede a goal along their win streak.

If Hearts are to beat their Perth opposition, they would move into fifth and arguably right back into the title race. Levein knows his side can’t afford to slip up two matches in a row. He added: “We will need to score again this weekend against St Johnstone who are in a very good run themselves.

“They’ve got a good record defensively. We for a spell struggled against St Johnstone. We’ve kinda swung things back in our favour in the last couple of years. Our recent results have been fairly good against them.

“It is really tight. We kinda slipped up a bit the other night. We’re sort of on the coattails of everybody and that’s the big disappointment. We could have hung in really close behind the top teams but there’s still a long way to go.”

Hearts captain expecting “tough run in” for SPFL title race

Christophe Berra

Christophe Berra believes Hearts could get themselves back in the title race. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

Hearts captain, Christophe Berra, knows his side will have tough task ahead if they’re to get themselves back battling for the Premiership title this season.

Just nine points separate first and sixth place in the league table, and the centre half is confident they can be in the race until the very end.

The Tynecastle side take on St. Johnstone this weekend and a win would see them move above the side from Perth into fifth place.

Berra spoke to the media about the tough challenge that awaits the club for the second half of the season. He said: “It is so tight between the top six just now, every team seems to be taking points off each other. You’ve got St Johnstone who have been consistent throughout, Aberdeen who started slowly but have picked up again. Celtic and Rangers are right at the top of their game as you would expect, so it is going to be a tough run in.

Christophe Berra

The Hearts defender was injured during the club’s impressive start to the season. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

“If we can pick up all the points against St Johnstone tomorrow, then it’ll be a perfect start to getting ourselves right in the mix again.

“We’ve all got to play each other, and points will be lost every weekend so it’ll come to who can keep their players fit, what team has that special bit of talent that can win you these big games, and who can get a bit of luck when it matters most.”

Berra has spent much of the first half of the season on the sidelines with a torn hamstring sustained in a 1-0 win over Celtic in August.

However, the 33-year-old is back in the squad and hopes players competing for places in the team can lead to better performances. He added: “Obviously, competition for places in the team is good, it is down to the gaffer to make his decision on what players he goes with, but everyone here is fighting for the jersey.

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Hearts captain said he’s aware of tough competition in the top six. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

“It’s great to see so much competition all over the park because if you don’t then some players can get a bit slack, so this will keep everyone on there toes. That is what you need if you want to build a strong squad and the manager is trying to do that.”

The Hearts captain spoke about how manager Craig Levein’s straightforward approach when addressing the players has helped the team improve on their mistakes.

“I’ve worked under a lot of managers but for me the one thing you really appreciate as a player is when the manager is honest with you, so you know where you stand. He had a few harsh words for the players and for the team overall.

“We know that we did not hit the standards that we have in the past, but the games are coming thick and fast, so we have an opportunity to put that right.”

Hearts vs St Johnstone – Match Preview

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Hearts host St Johnstone on Saturday at Tynecastle. (Photo credit: Paul Henery)

Hearts will be looking to bounce back from a defeat against Dundee on January 24, whereas St Johnstone is looking for their fourth consecutive league win, after overcoming Livingston.

This is the third time the two clubs have met this season, with a Hearts coming out on top in a 2-1 win at Tynecastle and a 2-2 draw at McDiarmid Park.

Craig Levein’s side will be looking to redeem themselves after the loss to Dundee but has warned that he may ‘drop half the team’ following the match. The Edinburgh side was booed when they left the pitch on the match night, and Levein singled out his January signing David Vanecek for a ‘rubbish’ performance.

The Czech was substituted 30 minutes into the game, leaving Hearts fans disappointed and wanting more from the striker, who joined the team after agreeing on a pre-contract with Hearts in the summer.

Craig Levein

Craig Levein labelled his side’s performance against Dundee as “p***”. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

Fans will be hoping Vanecek puts in a stronger performance when St Johnstone come to Tynecastle on Saturday. Levein has also added Leeds United defender Conor Shaughnessy on loan, to his squad.

St Johnstone look favourites to take home the three points, with their last defeat coming against title contenders Rangers back in December, and even that was a tightly contested game with Saints conceding an 88th-minute goal. St Johnstone have now kept 11 clean sheets in 14 games, after beating Livingston 1-0 midweek and moving the Saints into the fifth position.

The Perth side is looking to continue the momentum they have going, with a 100% record in all competitions this year. This is bolstered by the return of fan favourite Michael O’Halloran, who signed a two-and-a-half year contract last week to return to McDiarmid Park for the third time.

Kick off is 3pm on Saturday, January 26 at Tynecastle Park.

Auchinleck boss ready for tough Scottish Cup challenge against Hearts

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Auchinleck Talbot become only the second Junior side to reach the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. (Photo credit: Auchinleck Talbot)

Following one of the biggest upsets in Scottish Cup history, Auchinleck Talbot manager, Tommy Sloan says his side are ready for the next challenge as they face off against Premiership club, Hearts in the fifth round.

The Junior Cup holders made history after becoming only the second side in the history of the competition to reach the fifth round.

It was confirmed yesterday that the fixture will take place 10 February with a 3:00pm kick off.

The Beechwood Park side are unbeaten in 14 matches, winning their last nine and while Sloan’s side will have a couple of games to play before they make the journey to Edinburgh, the Talbot manager says he’s delighted with how the season has gone so far. He said: “We’ve had great results. Great run in the Senior Cup. We’re still in the Junior Cup, touch wood.”

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Tommy Sloan and Andy Leishman embrace after historic win. (Photo credit: Auchinleck Talbot)

The Edinburgh side have hosted the Ayrshire Juniors before back in 2012 but were the visitors were narrowly beat 1-0 with the winning strike coming late in the game.

However, when Sloan’s side return to Tynecastle in two weeks time he’ll be bringing along three returning players with him from that previous Scottish Cup defeat against the Jambos.

One of which is goalkeeeper, Andy Leishman who himself saved a penalty during that match seven years ago. The Talbot boss said he’s hoping that his side could replicate the level of performance displayed on that day. He added: “Andy [Leishman] has survived from that team. Gordon Pope, who scored the goal that was disallowed that day. Steven White is another one.

“Andy had a great day that day, saved the penalty and made numerous saves if I can remember right. Hopefully that stands us in good stead and the confidence we take out the Ayr match will hopefully help us at Tynecastle that day.

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This will be the second time in seven years these sides have faced in the Scottish Cup. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

“I think we’ll carry a threat up there. I think we’ve got players who can score goals no matter where we go.

“If you can keep winning it’ll give you confidence going into any match. I think that was one of the keys to beating Ayr because they hadn’t won for four or five weeks.

“When we go to Tynecastle we’ll need every advantage we can get because they are one of the best sides in Scotland.

“It’s a huge task for us and we’ll need to take any advantage we can get at all but I think we have players that can cause them problems.”

All it took was a Craig McCracken header to separate Auchinleck from their fellow Ayrshire opposition. Sloan said he was very impressed in the manner his side conducted themselves on the day. He said: “The players handled it really well. It’s really important to play the way you always play. I was saying to them to ‘Don’t try anything different. What’s gained you success is the things you do week in, week out’ and it was important to stress that to the players.

“It was real impressive to me.”

Auchinleck are now the second Junior side in Scottish Cup history to reach the fifth round, following Irvine Meadow’s success reaching this stage of the competition back in 2010.

Sloan, who has spent almost 16 years at the club, said the win against Ayr was ‘sweeter’ due to the quality of the team but doesn’t believe that this is the biggest upset in the history of the Scottish Cup. He added: “We knew Ayr have got a really good strong support again. They’ve been doing really well under Ian McCall, which makes it all so much sweeter.

“I thought it was a wee bit unfortunate we drew them at that time. We could have played them in a different year and it wouldn’t have been as strong a side. It’s sweeter because it’s a really good Ayr United side we beat.”

“Personally I don’t see it as the biggest upset because I know the strength in the Junior league. There’s really good players in the Juniors and a lot of them go onto be senior players.”

Auchinleck’s victory last weekend has drawn attention from fans across the country onto not only the side he manages but onto the Scottish Junior scene as well. Something he says he’s glad has now been recognised.  He said: “What it does is it helps the profile of the club. It’s a huge thing winning the Junior Cup, it’s the main thing each Junior side will go for every year but now we’ve got the qualification for the Senior Cup, you’ve got to try and make the impression and help your club.

“We’ve shown that the Junior sides could go into the Scottish leagues and certainly hold their own.

“It certainly should help promote the Juniors and let’s hope it does.

“Whoever it may be, I’ll always support the Junior sides in the Senior Cup because it does promote our game and we need that. There’s an old fashioned belief that it’s kit and rush, there’s a lot of tackles and fouls, and it’s more like roller ball. It certainly isn’t nowadays. It’s a changed game since I played it.”

Can Scottish football compete with European elites?

It’s that time of the year again when football fans eagerly await news of the latest transfers their club is making in the transfer window. As clubs in Europe are making transactions of over £100 million per window these days, it’s normal practice to see those types of figures bandied about.

For the bigger clubs in Europe those signings are made to help them achieve success in European competitions like the Champions League or the Europa League.

This season, only Celtic made it through the qualifying rounds as the only Scottish team in European competition. Despite dropping out of the Champions League before Christmas, Brendan Rodgers’ side will take part in the Europa League next month – where they will face Russian outfit Zenit St. Petersburg.

In their Champions League group, Celtic faced two of the richest clubs worldwide: Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. They lost all matches against those sides. The total value of Celtic’s team was tiny compared to the German and French teams – a far cry from the days when Scottish clubs competed in high level matches with Europe’s best. In the current climate, that is not likely to happen again.

Olivier Ntcham was Celtic’s big money buy last summer. Credit: Getty Sport

Neil Patey, a football finance expert, believes that the millions of pounds in broadcast revenue sets the larger leagues apart from that of Scotland’s top flight. He said:

In reality, small leagues, Scotland and Celtic as an example, will never be competitive financially with a team in the upper echelons of the English, Spanish, German, Italian leagues. Aside wealthy owners, those leagues command more money from media rights.

You’re going to get somewhere between £140 million to £200 million every year through media rights. The winners of the Scottish Premiership get about £2.5 million so you are never going to be on an equal footing and there will always be that disparity between big and small leagues.

Celtic are still miles ahead of the rest of the country financially. They spent £4.5 million on midfielder Olivier Ntcham last summer and are likely to receive a multi-million pound offer for their striker Moussa Dembele this month. Edinburgh clubs Hibernian and Hearts struggle to reach seven figures to pay for any players.

Former SFA chief executive, Gordon Smith, thinks that Scotland’s finances will only get better if money is invested into the clubs differently. He said:

[Clubs] might have a buyer who can flaunt the rules a wee bit like some people do, basically coming in as a sponsor like you see in England with Etihad, for example. They can get around it because the owners get to put money in in different ways so that’s the only way Scottish teams can compete.

Gordon Smith (left) believes the Scottish clubs need wealthy owners to compete. Credit: Getty Images

UEFA’s financial fair play rule also keeps tabs on how clubs operate financially. The rule requires teams to financially breakeven with their revenue and expenditure. For the leagues and clubs who benefit from hefty television income that means more money is able to be spent within the rules.

Financial fair play expert, Ed Thompson, says that it is those rules which make it hard for smaller leagues to compete now. He stated:

In Scotland, and smaller countries, the amount of money that TV companies can afford to pay is less. If you look at big clubs in small countries, they have absolutely fallen off a cliff as far as UEFA competition is concerned.

Historically, top clubs in Holland, Belgium, Romania and Scotland – like Ajax, Steaua Bucharest, Anderlecht, Celtic and Rangers – who would have done well in Europe and won competitions, because they are in small countries where TV revenues are lower, financial fair play rules mean they are unable to compete.

Scottish clubs can keep trying. However, football and money are a married couple in the modern day and until Scottish football is rolling in it, pushing custard up a hill with a fork looks much easier.

Radio Bulletin @ 4pm

Saskia Williams presents today’s news with this weeks bulletin.

Edinburgh Council appeal for people power to help their Tourist Tax Cuts Scheme. Source: Edinburgh Evening News

Football Chat @ 3pm

The squad are back to breakdown Scottish football.

The Scottish draw results in another Edinburgh Derby, Celtic are back in action in the Champions League and why do Rangers still not have a new manager?

Ewan Hawthorne is joined by Ryan Maher and Cameron Storer.

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Are football tickets too pricey for Scottish fans?

The BBC published its Price of Football study this week. It’s a detailed analysis of how much fans will spend supporting their club over the course of a season – from tickets to pies.

The study covers 13 leagues across Britain, and some in Europe. The Edinburgh-based football clubs, Hearts, Hibernian and Edinburgh City, have all been analysed as part of Scotland’s inclusion.

The Gorgie Road stand at Hearts’ Tynecastle. Photo Credit: (Christian Cooksey/Getty Images)

And the figures revealed in the study range from the cost of a season ticket to how much a cup of tea is at home matches.

Hearts have just moved back in to Tynecastle following a brief stay at Murrayfield, but their figures do not appear to have been affected. The study shows that the cheapest season ticket to watch the Gorgie club is currently £300. The most expensive single ticket is £33.

Across Edinburgh, Hibernian’s cheapest season ticket of £335 is more expensive than their rivals. The two clubs are relatively similar in terms of prices for pies, teas and replica shirts.

Lower league Edinburgh City hold a firm figure for all season tickets. Everyone committed to watching the club this season have paid £160. As expected, their cost of single match tickets to adult replica shirts are all much cheaper than the bigger clubs.

By using the fan cost calculator supplied by the BBC – finding out how much it is to follow each of the Edinburgh clubs with season tickets is quite easy.

If you are a Hearts fan, the study reveals that it will cost approximately £824 in total this season. This figure is based on the cheapest season ticket and buying one pie, tea and programme per home match.

Football fans can pay upwards of £100 across a season for pies. Photo Credit (Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Pies and teas across the season could come to approximately £86. Paying for programmes could come to £66.50 and an adult replica shirt is around £48.

Hibernian fans will be spending slightly more over the course of the season. The calculator suggests that an average season ticket holder could be spending around £850 to watch the Easter Road side.

Compared to Hearts, Hibernian’s pies and teas prices could come to a total of nearly £90. Replica adult shirts for the 2016 Scottish Cup winners are £3 less expensive than at Hearts.

Both clubs’ final totals have the TV sport subscription price included – which is the same across the board for SPFL clubs. £324 could be spent by fans of the Edinburgh rivals so that they won’t miss some of their club’s action if they can’t make it to a match this season.

This subscription price means that even Edinburgh City’s fans could be spending, surprisingly, upwards of £600 this season.

It’s much cheaper for pies and teas at the Meadowbank club – just £41 across the season. It is nearly £50 less for a fan to enjoy a beverage at every home match for the League Two side than that of an avid Hibernian fan at Easter Road.

In Edinburgh alone, football fans collectively for all three clubs are spending nearly £2300 supporting their side.

Easter Road, home of Edinburgh side Hibernian. Photo Credit: Steve Walsh/Getty Images

Comparing the Hibernian and Hearts figures to that of Glasgow’s Old Firm however, is much more revealing.

Fans of the current Scottish champions, Celtic, are estimated in the study to be spending £909 over the season. This could be much more for supporters with the most expensive season ticket at Celtic Park reaching £609.

Their rivals, Rangers, are close behind, with their fans spending approximately £875 this season. Pies and teas at Ibrox could reach up to £96 for season ticket holders.

Combined, the two top-flight Edinburgh clubs’ fans might spend £1700 this campaign. Across the country in Glasgow, Old Firm supporters could be paying £1800.

On the evidence of these figures, it’s true what they say. Football really is nothing without the fans.


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