HEARTS star Andy Halliday reckons players must manufacture their own derby-day intensity at Hampden after being startled by the lack of ferocity on display during the recent Old Firm clash.
Halliday, no stranger to a crunching tackle during his five years at Rangers, expected the Celtic Park showdown to buck the trend of ‘flatness’ in the regrettable era of football without supporters.
Instead, the usual aggression and tempo were visibly absent, while referee John Beaton not forced to flash a yellow card until the hour-mark.
With no baying crowd to drive on the players, Halliday is adamant the onus is on individuals to find internal motivation – and he suspects that will be no issue in a Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibernian, even if Hampden is eerily deserted.
“I have watched loads of football and, although I’ve only played a few games with no fans, it doesn’t have the same feel to it,” said Halliday. “You can understand why most games have some flatness in it.
“I was surprised when it came in the Old Firm game because I wasn’t expecting that [flatness]. It is probably the only game between those teams I can remember not seeing a few challenges.
“So, it is up to us as players to realise the importance of the game and get up to the derby intensity. It is about yourself going into the game, realising it is a derby and having that will to win.
“We will be 100 per cent committed and it is up to us to make sure there is no flatness. We want to win and I am sure the derby feeling will take care of itself.”
The lack of fans at the national stadium will, if nothing else, ensure a more sedate outing for Halliday, who would have undoubtedly found himself the focal point of a few pointed chants from the Hibs faithful.
“I seem to be the focus for a lot of opposition fans in the country,” laughed Halliday. “No, I miss the fans, the boos, the cheers; I miss it all.”
His status among those of a green-and-white persuasion comes from the 2016 Scottish Cup final, when he netted a sensational long-range strike to give Rangers a 2-1 lead over Hibs.
However, his celebrations soon turned to despair when the Edinburgh outfit roared back to win 3-2 and end 114 years of hurt in the process.
“The Hibs game in 2016 was disappointing,” recalled Halliday. “But this is a new occasion – I always look to the future. This game isn’t about me, it is about Hearts and knowing how important is for everyone at this club.
“You want to win every competition you enter but, of course, it is special that it is Hibs at Hampden in a semi-final.”
While Halliday expertly affords talk of 2016 and revenge missions a wide berth, he is candid regarding his desire to cap his career with a maiden major honour.
His medal collection includes an old Third Division title with Livingston and a Championship and Challenge Cup double with Rangers in 2015/16. Suffice to say, lifting the Scottish Cup in December would represent a new level of prestige.
“I will look back on my career with pride, regardless, but I want to win a major trophy,” he said. “I have won a few trophies so far but a Scottish Cup would be huge. “It would mean a little bit more to me if I had a few more major honours under my belt.
“It will be difficult because there are other teams left in the competition who are fancied more than us – but we have the belief we can win this game.
“Some people will say we are underdogs but we don’t. Expectations are at a big club and we are putting demands on ourselves. We aren’t going into in with an underdog mentality, we want to cause an upset and we believe with the group of players we have that we can do that. If we play well we can more than match Hibs.”