Hearts manager Craig Levein has heaped praise on Conor Washington for his selfless team performance against Motherwell.
The Northern Ireland striker scored what proved to be the winning goal in Friday’s 2-1 Betfred Cup victory at Fir Park – his first club strike since February 2018 – after netting a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
But Levein insists Washington’s all-round display and work-rate was a significant factor in the visitors producing a dominant performance at Fir Park, just six days after the Gorgie side were booed off following a lacklustre goal-less draw with Ross County.
Levein, whose team will host Aberdeen in the quarter-finals, said: “Conor led the line excellently and he is very selfless with his running.
“He tries to help his team-mates when they’re under pressure and I was delighted for him to get the goal.
“I think that will help him enormously and in general I thought there was some really good play.
“The 2-1 didn’t flatter us, we restricted Motherwell to very few opportunities and Aidy White had a great chance at the end.
“We were solid, our back four was excellent and that does make a difference when you have something to build on.”
The only negative from the tie was Jamie Walker fracturing his leg in a challenge with Liam Donnelly in the first half, with the attacking midfielder facing up to three months on the sidelines.
Hearts, who travel to Celtic in league action this Sunday, had gone into the match without John Souttar, Steven Naismith and Ben Garuccio but Levein believes he has a strong enough squad to handle the absence of key players.
Levein, who is on course to sign Japanese midfielder Ryotaro Meshino on loan from Manchester City, added: “We’ve got more of those performances in us.
“I looked at the bench and when you see guys like Stevie MacLean, Glenn Whelan, Aidy White and Uche Ikpeazu – you start to think that we can alter the course of the match by going to the bench.
“It makes the first eleven players think, ‘I need to be at my best to get into the team’.
“So we do have a strong squad and that will help us going forward.”
Hearts full-back Michael Smith, who scored the opening goal against the Steelmen with a fine strike from outside the box, hopes the victory is the start of a successful spell in both league and cup competition.
Smith said: “It’s a tough place to come, we’ve struggled at Fir Park a bit in the past but hopefully this can kick-start our season.
“We’re into the next round and hopefully it can kick-start our league campaign as well.
“It was a good occasion getting to the Scottish Cup final last season, I thought we played really well but we just missed out and the boys have taken that experience into Friday and we want to get into more cup finals.”