Football: Hearts' dream in Rousset's hands

David McKinney looks at the Edinburgh side's chances of surprising Rangers in tomorrow's Coca-Cola Cup final
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The Independent Online
Every Hearts player and supporter shares a dream this weekend; a vision of being swept along Gorgie Road on a tidal wave of maroon and white as the League Cup is displayed from the front of an open topped bus. It's a sight Edinburgh has not seen for 34 years and one which is fondly recalled by those old enough to remember to children young and not so young, who have not experienced that pleasure.

Victory in the Coca-Cola Cup final against Rangers would be a cause for celebration and also a chance to wipe away the memory of a 5-1 defeat in the Tennents Scottish Cup final of last May.

For Gilles Rousset, Hearts' French goalkeeper, tomorrow's game will not be as much a case of deja vu as selective amnesia. It was his blunder last May which opened the door to a Rangers victory. Hearts were trailing 1-0 two minutes into the second half when the Frenchman allowed a Brian Laudrup cross to slip through his legs and give Rangers the platform from which to record that 5-1 victory.

Rousset has paid the price with many sleepless nights since then and as the Edinburgh club look for success he knows the confidence of the team must stem from himself. Yet it is perhaps an indication of the aura that surrounds Rangers that the goalkeeper falls short of predicting victory even if he performs perfectly.

"It's very important to keep a clean sheet, because if I do, we will have a good chance of winning. Rangers are a very good team but we have quality players and are confident."

The measure of the improvement Hearts have made since May can be gauged by the state of mind of the players who have that experience to draw upon.

Rousset added: "Last year it was fantastic to reach the final - the fans had waited 10 years to get there - but this year after the semi-final defeat of Dundee, the atmosphere in the dressing-room was quiet because we knew the job wasn't finished. It was fantastic just to be in the final last season. This time it will be fantastic to win."

If Hearts did manage to record a victory, it would leave Dave McPherson a happier man than most. The thought of that open top bus is one which appeals particularly to the defender who spent two spells at Rangers but was denied such an occasion in that time.

"When you win a cup with Rangers, there's always part of the city which is quite happy. But because of the other half, open top buses are not allowed. At Ibrox, we used to go back to the ground and then everyone would go their own way.

"In England there always seems to be a typical cup final celebration with the bus and all the usual razzmatazz. There are so many Hearts fans who are desperate for us to win, the streets would be lined by the supporters and it would be nice to have the freedom of Edinburgh for an hour on Sunday night to return in style."

Style, however, does not seem to equate with Hearts as much as it does with their opponents and one man in particular, Ally McCoist, can this week finally claim to have done it all after scoring his first goals in the Champions' League against Grasshopper Zurich. Tomorrow he will be hoping to win his ninth medal in a tournament which has looked after him. In his early days at Ibrox, he scored a hat-trick against Celtic, a performance which helped him to win over the Rangers supporters and he also came off the bench a couple of years ago to score the winner against Hibs with an overhead kick.

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, is perfectly aware that McCoist will be a key player for his side. He said: "I was delighted for him that he managed to score in the Champions' League and there's no doubt this is the type of occasion he relishes. He has also shown he is back to scoring form."

That final statement alone might well be enough to kill the Hearts dream.

The Celtic striker Pierre van Hooijdonk was back in the Netherlands yesterday for treatment to a groin injury while his club saw their chance to go top of the table put on hold. Dunfermline's East End Park resembled a frozen wasteland yesterday afternoon and a 4pm inspection confirmed the postponement. The game will be re-scheduled for as soon as possible but it will not be midweek the week after next, with Celtic entertaining Bobby Robson's Barcelona in a friendly on Tuesday.

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