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Hearts secure European group football – 5 things we learned from semi-final win

Ellis Simms celebrates Hearts’ opener (Steve Welsh/PA)
Ellis Simms celebrates Hearts’ opener (Steve Welsh/PA)

Hearts beat Hibernian 2-1 to reach their third Scottish Cup final in four seasons.

All the goals came in a six-minute first-half spell, with 10-man Hibs unable to find an equaliser after Chris Cadden had responded to expert strikes from Ellis Simms and Stephen Kingsley.

Here are five things we learned from the Hampden action.

Hearts seal European group stage football

Craig Gordon, left
Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon after a UEFA Cup group game against Schalke (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Having already wrapped up third place in the league and with top two Celtic and Rangers in the other semi-final, victory saw Hearts seal the favoured European slot outside the Champions League. Hearts will go straight into the Europa League play-offs and even defeat will send them into the Europa Conference League groups. It will be the first time in 18 years that the club have entered the group stage in Europe and the first time in 15 years that any Scottish club outside of Celtic and Rangers have done so, since Aberdeen’s run to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

Gorgie rules

Robbie Neilson
Hearts manager Robbie Nielson celebrates another derby win (Steve Welsh/PA)

The multi-million-pound European boost could help Hearts strengthen their stranglehold on the Edinburgh derby fixture. That is now six derbies unbeaten for Hearts, who beat Hibs at the same stage in the delayed 2020 Scottish Cup after being relegated to the Championship. Hibernian manager Shaun Maloney admitted he had instructed his team to be more physical after the previous weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Tynecastle, which consigned his side to a bottom-six finish, but they lacked a cutting edge at times. Many Hibs fans gave their side a warm ovation afterwards, but the five empty blocks of seats, contrasting with a full Hearts end, told a story of the relative current strength of the clubs.

Hibernian’s ill-discipline is costing them

Joe Newell, left
Joe Newell was sent off for this challenge on Peter Haring (Steve Welsh/PA)

Joe Newell took his manager’s instructions too far. Having been booked early on for a foul on Barrie McKay, the midfielder walked a fine disciplinary line before jumping into a challenge on Peter Haring 20 minutes into the second half and getting a second yellow card. Hibs had started the second half well and continued to press for an equaliser, but their chances were harmed by the rash tackle from the experienced player. Hibs have the most red cards of any team in Scotland this season, with Newell picking up their 11th dismissal and his own second.

Good news for Motherwell, Dundee United and Ross County

Shaun Maloney
Hibernian manager Shaun Maloney has seen their European prospects ended by consecutive defeats by Hearts (Steve Welsh/PA)

The three teams that sneaked into the cinch Premiership top six last weekend now have a better chance of sealing a European place, with Hibernian out of the cup. Two of the three teams, who are split by a point, will get into the Europa Conference League qualifiers, with fourth place sealing a spot in the third qualifying round, two ties away from the group stages.

Craig Halkett’s luck is out

Craig Halkett receives treatment
Craig Halkett suffered a serious-looking injury (Steve Welsh/PA)

The centre-back got himself into the Scotland squad last month, but he could face a fight to make the cup final on May 21, as well as the June international schedule, which could total five Scotland matches. The former Livingston player appeared to catch his studs in the turf while challenging for the ball with James Scott and it was immediately clear he was in trouble before he was carried off on a stretcher. Halkett was back on the pitch after the final whistle on crutches and with his ankle in a protective boot. He faces an anxious few days before the injury settles down and the damage is assessed.