John Rankin believes his Hamilton players will be able to play with “a smile on their face” against Hearts in their home Scottish Cup tie on Friday.
Accies are bottom of the Championship but have rallied in recent weeks, beating Ross County on penalties in the fourth round of the cup and reaching the Challenge Cup final on Tuesday night with a 2-1 victory over Queen of the South after extra-time.
With Robbie Neilson’s side sitting third in the Premiership and strong favourites to make the last eight, former Hibernian and Dundee United midfielder Rankin, who had a spell as youth coach at Tynecastle, insists the pressure is off the hosts.
He said: “It is a great opportunity for the players to showcase what they have.
“We have some really young players in our group. I am looking forward to giving them the opportunity to play and express themselves.
“It is a free hit for us. There is no pressure on us.
“We are not expected to win. Everyone outside here has Hearts as favourites so it is an opportunity for us to go and play with a smile on our face and relax, within the circumstances.
“The players are relaxed, they obviously have huge confidence from last night.
“Looking at them when they came in, you wouldn’t know they had played extra-time. They look fresh, bubbly, they are full of confidence, that vibrance is what we need. No excuses towards Friday night.
“That relaxed atmosphere is what we are trying to create and it was certainly there in the last round.
“I had players coming off at full-time looking forward to extra-time, (saying), ‘We have got it here’. That is probably a wee bit of arrogance, a wee bit of confidence, but I am delighted they have that character to go shoulder to shoulder with a Premiership team and think they have a wee opportunity, so I hope that continues on Friday night.”
Jambos top-scorer Lawrence Shankland is suspended after being sent off against Hibernian in the previous round, but Rankin noted the strength in depth that Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has at his disposal.
The Accies boss also noted the stunning strike from 50 yards that striker Stephen Humphrys produced in added time to clinch the 3-1 win over Dundee United in the cinch Premiership at the weekend.
He said: “Obviously, him (Shankland) not being able to play is a bonus.
“But I also know the other attacking players they have and I look at Humphrys and it looks like he can score from goal kicks at times.
“For a player to have that vision and that ability to score that goal…and I am led to believe it was his weaker foot.
“It is good ability. I admire it. I would have liked to have been in the stadium to see it.
“I know Josh Ginnelly, I worked with him a bit when I was at Hearts, I know what his strengths are.
“They have really good players throughout their squad. It will be a tough game.”