If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Playing Rangers in the final of major Scottish cup competitions seemed practically inevitable for Hearts in the 90s. Having lost both the League Cup and Scottish Cup finals to an outstanding Rangers team in 1996, it seemed like the Jambos would never get the better of the Gers.
But not according to Jim Jefferies.
“You keep knocking on the door and somebody will let you in,” the former manager told NTOF.
“We knocked on the door in ’96 but that was my first season there. To get to a cup final, going the season before avoiding relegation, to fourth place and a cup final, making Europe, it was a great season.
“It was just sad that when the second goal went in, we could’ve sat there and defended at 2-0 but we tried to get back in the game but Rangers just picked us off and we did some daft things in the second half that left ourselves exposed but we learnt from that.
“I said to players after that day that the best way to get the defeat out the system was to get back here as quick as possible. As it was, it was a League Cup final next. But we showed a great account of ourselves losing 4-3 so we felt maybe third time lucky. And it turned out to be.
“We’d played well against Rangers, had a lot of plaudits and good games. But Rangers had scored 13 goals in four matches against us. If you look at it, it’s three goals of a start.
“So we said could you afford to give them the same? They said no. And I said ‘Well you’ll never get a better chance’ and we went through their team.”
Albertz was Rangers’ pivotal player
“The players that were available in the middle of the park weren’t great creative players, all hard working and very good players but I felt that the key was Albertz. He had kept pulling Rangers out of trouble, did it against us twice in a league match with free kicks and was doing it regularly. He got sent off at Dundee United, a straight red, so that meant he missed the game.
“Billy and I just told the players all week, ‘you’ll never get a better chance’. We were playing well, had great plaudits. But our tactics definitely changed against them in the final.
“We didn’t go and attack them like we did in the league. We said we’ll just sit and let them come to us and see if we can hit them on the break, so it was a complete reversal of the philosophy we tried to use in the league.”