Robbie Neilson last night dedicated Hearts’ Scottish Cup derby win to the memory of Marius Zaliukas.
Lithuanian internationalist Zaliukas, who also played for Rangers and Leeds United, has died aged just 36 following an illness.
And while celebrating clinching a place in the Final against the winner of today’s second semi-final between Aberdeen and Celtic on December 20, Neilson was experiencing mixed emotions. “The news about Marius is absolutely devastating for everyone at the club,” he said.
“I found out a minute or two before the start of the game.
“I didn’t speak to the players about it until just after the game.
“I knew Marius very well. He was here as a player with me and I knew him for a number of years.
“He has had a difficult couple of years.
“His death is devastating for everyone at the club because he is synonymous with the 5-1 Final in 2012.
“Hopefully, it’s fitting that we have won today in another game against Hibs at Hampden.
“I would 100% want to win it for him – I would take another 5-1 win, whoever we play against, that would be great.”
Everyone at Heart of Midlothian Football Club is devastated to learn of the passing of Scottish Cup winning captain Marius Zaliukas.
A full tribute will follow, but for now we send our love to Marius' family and friends.
That win was for you, skipper 🏆 ♥️ pic.twitter.com/kH7aHePOSi
— Heart of Midlothian FC (@JamTarts) October 31, 2020
Neilson said he felt the win had been “pay back” for the club’s relegation at the end of the curtailed 2019-20 season, a sanction which they fiercely contested at the time.
“What happened is a motivation that we use every day and before every game.
“Doubly so today because it’s the Scottish Cup, it’s Hibs and it’s a massive game for everyone.
“We knew that the club has been kicked left right and centre for the past year and this was an opportunity for us to drop some kicking.
“We managed to do that today and get a great result against our main rivals, a team that is in the top flight, and get to the Scottish Cup Final.
“It gives our fans, and all the staff at the club, a fantastic lift which we needed.”
The Hearts boss, though, was gracious about the losers.
“I thought it was two good teams playing against each other.
“I felt we would negate each other so I did expect it to go all the way.
“Even in extra-time it was quite close and two penalties decided it.
“It was good that we held our nerve at the end.”
Hearts keeper Craig Gordon said he felt the win vindicated his decision to return to the club from Celtic.
“This is up there with my best days in the game. Just because of the magnitude of what it meant for the club,” he said.
“I made some good saves in the game and we’ve won it.
“To make a contribution that helps get the win is massive for me and everyone at Hearts.
“You never know if you’ll get these chances or occasions again when you leave Celtic.”
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