Hearts manager Robbie Neilson saw his side beat rivals Hibs to reach the Scottish Cup final and said it would lift fans after a tough time for the Tynecastle club.
Liam Boyce’s extra-time penalty sealed a 2-1 win in the derby at Hampden, setting up a date with either Aberdeen or Celtic in the final.
The derby should have been played last season but was postponed because of lockdown and the pandemic. Since then Hearts have been relegated to the Championship after a vote was taken to curtail the 2019-20 season, and lost in a fight to overturn the decision before being punished by the Scottish FA for pursuing a legal challenge.
“The club’s been hit and hit and hit again for the last nine months,” he said.
“The players, the staff and most importantly the fans.”
“This will put a smile on fans’ faces again and hopefully we can come together because it’s been a difficult period.
“We’re all fighting for each other and you can see that with the players in the dressing room and the staff and the fans. It’s about fighting to get back where we belong, and we belong in Scottish Cup finals.”
The club’s relegation meant that they had a later start to the season and felt Hibs had an advantage going into the final with months of competitive games behind them. That made the victory more impressive to Neilson.
“We knew coming into this game that we were going to be ten or 12 games behind Hibs fitness-wise,” he said.
“So to put in that performance and that work-rate, not just through a full game but also extra time, was just brilliant.
“The dressing room is absolutely flying at the moment but we’ll be back down to earth next week when we go to Inverness.”
While the team experienced the instant joy of beating their rivals, the club was rocked by news that former captain Marius Zaliukas had passed away at the age of 36 after struggling with illness.
“I found out just a minute before the players went out at the start of the game but I didn’t speak to them about it,” Neilson said.
“I knew Marius personally for a number of years. It’s devastating.
“He was a big part of the club and a huge part of the history – captain in the 5-1 cup final win against Hibs.
“Hopefully this will give slight comfort, this game is for him and we’re all thinking about his family.”
Defeated Hibs boss Jack Ross said: “Quite often in football it’s fine margins that determine games and unfortunately for us we came out on the wrong side of the fine margins today.
“I don’t think I can sit here and be critical of my players in terms of what they put into the game or their performance. It wasn’t perfect but there was a lot of good about it and it was down to fine margins.
“As a group it is hurting, it is sore. But the reaction and the response will be the key thing for us.”