Raith Rovers v Hearts: No old pals act as hosts seek cup upset

Rudi Skacel
Skacel is now with his third Scottish club but will always be synonymous with Hearts
Scottish Cup: Raith Rovers v Hearts
Date: Sunday, 22 January Venue: Stark's Park Kick-off: 13:05 GMT
Coverage: Watch on BBC One Scotland, listen on BBC Radio Scotland; text commentary on BBC Sport website

A Scottish Cup tie with Hearts was always going to resonate with members of the Raith Rovers set-up.

How could it not, when Stark's Park manager Gary Locke was at Tynecastle for the 1998 cup win and Rovers midfielder Rudi Skacel lifted the trophy twice with Hearts.

Both insist their emotional connections with the Edinburgh club - Locke as a lifelong fan then player, coach and manager, and Skacel as a talismanic figure across two spells - will be irrelevant on Sunday, when the two sides meet in Kirkcaldy.

It may be for them, as well as assistant manager Darren Jackson, captain Jason Thomson, and Kevin McHattie, another three former Hearts players, but for the visiting support the tie will also be an opportunity to revel in past glories.

"It will be strange to play against Hearts and be the enemy for the supporters for 90 minutes," Skacel said.

"I have to always thank [the Hearts fans], they give me special powers and always treat me really well.

"Hopefully, it will be a good atmosphere and we can get a good result for our supporters."

Skacel is at pains to insist his focus is "100%" on Rovers and being "professional". He is sensitive to Raith supporters being irked by references to his past with Hearts, although he has often revelled in the 5-1 victory over Hibernian in the 2012 Scottish Cup final.

Skacel scored the second and fifth goals that day, as well Hearts' goal in the 1-1 draw with Gretna in the 2006 final, which his team won on penalties.

Rudi Skacel and Gary Locke
Skacel and Locke during their days together at Hearts

Yet choosing to wear the number 51 on his jersey when he signed for Dundee United, and making the 5-1 scoreline with his fingers when he was substituted at Easter Road earlier this season, caused a stir in the tight-knit intensity of the Edinburgh rivalry.

He considers that an over-reaction, not least because of the level of abuse he says Hibs fans delivered during that game.

"Between Hearts and Hibs it's a big derby and in two spells at Hearts we did well against them, so they didn't like me," he explained, shrugging.

"The 5-1 [gesture] is just a number but for the whole 90 minutes they're calling me names and no-one cares.

"It was nothing serious. Even when I took number 51, [the reaction] was over-rated. Between big rivals there should be bantering. It's no big deal.

"I'm a professional, I want to do my best in every game. This is a big challenge for me because of my past, but we are all professionals and I will do 100% on Sunday the same [as always].

"We have nothing to lose, the pressure is on Hearts. So we have to enjoy it, it's a game where we can take back our confidence."

Raith are in the midst of a difficult run, having failed to win a game since October: a run of nine matches in which they have scored only three goals. Yet for the first six of those, Locke's side drew five and lost only once.

The shortage of goals perplexes the manager, who reels off a list of his attacking options. He signed another former Hearts player, Ryan Stevenson, to add brawn and aerial power to his front line, although the new arrival is cup-tied.

Gary Locke
Locke took over at Raith Rovers in May

"It's about enjoying it, it's a great game to play in," Locke said.

"Hearts will bring a big support, we'll have a big support ourselves, and the game's live on the television. So it's a great opportunity for the players to show everybody how good they can be.

"Most of the pressure's on Hearts, everyone expects them to win, but if our players play to their potential then we think we can cause an upset.

"As much as you can associate certain players with certain clubs - and there's no doubt I get associated with Hearts, where I spent a lot of fantastic years, with great times and difficult times - my sole focus is to do as well as I can for Raith Rovers.

"Off the pitch, it's different because you've got a lot of family and friends who are going to be at the game and they follow Hearts. It will be great banter before the game, but as a manager, we treat every game the same way.

"They've got quality throughout their squad. We need to be switched on, but if we are, we know we've got one or two players who can cause them problems."

Having been in charge of Hearts for a year, Locke understands the position opposite number Ian Cathro is in, but could not understand the level of criticism that was directed towards him after he succeeded Robbie Neilson at Tynecastle last month.

"I don't know why people question a guy that's been at Valencia and Rio Ave in Portugal," Locke added.

"As a manager, when you're getting criticism, you've just got to knuckle down and hope you can prove people wrong. It's a huge football club and you're going to get a lot of scrutiny and unfortunately you're going to get a lot of peoples' opinions."

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