Mackay stakes final claim
29 Apr 1996
Hearts 1, Kilmarnock 0.
GARY Mackay came off the bench to play his 602nd match for Hearts at the weekend - "601-and-a-half," was how he put it - and immediately made an impact, helping to push the Tynecastle club into third place in the championship.
Now, the big push is on to win a place in the Tennents Scottish Cup final squad against Rangers at Hampden on May 18.
The 32-year-old, however, realises that he will not be an automatic choice for the big day.
He is the longest-serving man at Tynecastle, having joined the club almost 16 years ago, but, despite being only one booking away from a suspension which would rule him out of the final, he wants to play in the final league match against Motherwell at Fir Park next Saturday to press his Hampden claims.
"When you see the squad our manager Jim Jefferies has built, you must realise how fierce the competition is for places," said the midfielder.
"Last year, we were almost involved in the play-off situation, now we are third in the league and in the cup final.
That shows what a good job the manager has done and how far we have come.
"We've got a good mixture of experience and youth, and certainly the youngsters who have come in have given the place a buzz.
We have such a strong squad that no-one can take anything for granted.
I know I am walking a tightrope because of the booking situation, but if I am picked to play at Motherwell, I'll just have to be careful.
Mind you, I can't tackle anyway." Mackay also sounded a warning for all those who will be involved on cup final day.
"At five minutes to three on the day, one name should be uppermost in our minds - Partick Thistle," he said.
Thistle, who will be involved in a play-off to try to save their premier division status, were the last team to beat Hearts.
They thumped them 5-2 at Tynecastle a month ago and Mackay feels that a tough lesson was learned.
He said: "We have come this far by showing great determination and a willingness to work for one another.
Against Thistle we let our standards drop and look what happened.
That should be our main worry for Hampden." Jefferies is rightly proud of what his side have achieved this season - one which was always going to be difficult for him - but admitted that while it would be good to finish in third place, the cup is the priority.
"Everything is being geared towards the cup final," he said.
"Even before today's match, I had planned on the substitutions I would make." And Jefferies has arranged a match to ensure his side will not have an idle week before the final.
He said: "I am waiting for permission from the SFA to allow us to play a closed-door match against the South Korean Olympic team on May 11.
"I have 80% of my team settled for the final, but there are a couple of positions I have still to sort out." Indeed, Jefferies has happy problems.
At the back, he has Pasquale Bruno, Neil Berry, Alan McManus, and Davie McPherson to choose from, while up front the contenders are Alan Johnston, John Robertson, John Colquhoun, and Alan Lawrence.
Saturday's match was a typical end of the season affair on a difficult surface, and Hearts seemed to function well only after Mackay came on for the second half.
Before that, Kilmarnock had the better of things and were unlucky not to be given a penalty when Berry barged into Ally Mitchell.
"I thought it was a blatant penalty," said manager Alex Totten.
"Had it been given it could have made all the difference.
With the possession we had, however, we should have done better." Hearts got their act together in the second half and never looked in much danger after McManus headed the winner in 58 minutes, although a bad defensive blunder in the final minute saw goalkeeper Gilles Rousset having to stick a foot out to divert a shot from Paul Wright.
Taken from the Herald