Steven Naismith pangs for more success as he reveals what Hearts cup win would mean to him
At the age of 34, Steven Naismith has seen it all before in Scottish football.
The veteran forward has won the three major trophies in Scotland, clocked up 51 caps for his country and played in the English Premier League. He’s scored goals in Merseyside derbies, Glasgow derbies and Edinburgh derbies. He’s also tasted lows; defeats in cup finals, relegation. Naismith has been round the block.
The Hearts forward, however, still pangs for more. Injury has kept the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Norwich man on the sidelines more than he would like recently, but he came on as an early second-half substitute and helped the Jambos become more of an attacking threat as they defeated bitter Edinburgh rivals Hibs 2-1 after extra time at a sodden Hampden. Now he wants to add another winners medal to a collection that includes three Premiership titles, two League Cup and one Scottish Cup.
What it means to Naisy
"You never get sick of winning trophies. I would treasure it,” said Naismith as he allowed his mind to wander forward to December 20, when Hearts take on Celtic in the final, back at Hampden.
“In terms of the build-up, I’d probably treat it a bit differently because I’ve got so much more experience now, but I’ve got the same hunger and desire to win trophies and you know how good it is to do it when you’ve done it.
“It gives you a great sense of achievement and we’ll strive for that, but I don’t think the boys need too much motivation. The manager and coaches have instilled that and the morale around the squad is the best that it’s been since I’ve been at the club.”
Still fighting on one major front
The number-one priority for Hearts, amid all the Scottish Cup drama, is an immediate return to the Premiership. They are the red-hot favourites to storm the Championship, fuelled by a sense of injustice about being there in the first place following the curtailment of the 2019/20 campaign in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and also a squad that is the envy of most teams already residing in Scotland’s top flight.
“Through the pre-season the manager made it clear that we need to win the league,” continued Naismith. “We won’t accept anything less and that means winning games week in, week out.
“But we always had this semi-final on the horizon and it kept everybody interested and competition for places really high. Now that we’re through this, it’s effectively the same feeling as we now know we’ve got a final to look forward to.
“Everybody has to be playing well to stay in the team and if they are, we should be winning league games and that should give us confidence going into the final.”
How it all unfolded
Hearts had to dig very deep to get past a strong Hibs team. After a fairly even first half, the Gorgie outfit took the lead when Craig Wighton planted a header beyond Hibs keeper Ofir Marciano bang on the hour-mark. Their Capital rivals rallied, Christian Doidge glancing home a Joe Newell cross just seven minutes later. Extra time appeared a certainty even if both teams had chances to win it before then.
The real drama was reserved for the additional 30 minutes, when Mihai Popescu fouled Newell in the Hearts penalty box and referee Willie Collum instantly awarded a penalty. Kevin Nisbet’s effort from the spot smacked the bar, Hearts breathed again and moments later, won a penalty of their own when Paul McGinn brought down Aidy White. Liam Boyce kept his cool and fired the Jambos into the final.
Sliding doors moment
“There’s no doubt that if they’d scored, the game changes and it would have been totally different,” mused Naismith as he looked back at the match’s sliding doors moment. “We would have had to throw caution to the wind and arguably, we’d have been odds on not to go through.
“But when he [Nisbet] misses it, that’s what we got the lift from. That spurred us on and the game did become really end-to-end.
“I thought in the second half we were comfortable in possession and that’s what got us our foothold in the game and got us up the park and when our subs came on, they did well.
“Aidy comes on and wins us the penalty. To be fair, Boycie’s had a tough night. He’s had chances and he didn’t take them - but you can rely on him from the penalty spot and he’s stuck it away confidently.”
Star of the show
The real hero on the night, though, was Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon. The 37-year-old made a series of excellent saves, the pick being from a first-half Nisbet header, and without him, there’s little doubt Hibs would have prevailed.
“He’s made two world-class saves,” added Naismith. “I said when he got him that he would be the best signing we’ve made by a country mile, just for his pure quality.
“He’s worth eight points a season on his own. He’s won us this semi final - with having him in the goal, we’re in the final. He played a bigger part than anybody else.
“To be honest, when you’ve got that guy behind you, you’re delighted. You feel much more confident.
“Even when they got the penalty, I was standing there thinking: ‘Craigy might save this.’
“It was a very shrewd bit of business for the club and everyone has seen the bigger picture on what he brings. And what he brings is success.”