RAB DOUGLAS was playing professional football before six of the Hearts starting line-up were even born.
Last night, the 43-year-old Forfar goalkeeper proved a stubborn barrier to the Edinburgh club in the League Cup second round. Only the introduction of Callum Paterson as a substitute swung this tie in Hearts’ favour and propelled them into tomorrow’s third round draw.
Douglas, who was playing for Meadowbank Thistle in 1993, was in inspired form, saving a Gavin Reilly penalty before conceding the opening goal from Kevin McHattie on 74 minutes. Yet Michael Dunlop’s header forced extra-time. A second Hearts goal from Reilly proved decisive in the 105th minute.
Paterson was instrumental in both his team’s goals. He was one of several first-team regulars rested but his intervention was crucial to the final outcome. Forfar ended the night with nine men, Danny Denholm and Kevin Nicoll sent off, and their manager Dick Campbell was sent to the stand. Still, they deserved plenty credit.
Head coach Robbie Neilson promised changes and made seven in total. Jack Hamilton, Liam Smith, Jordan McGhee, McHattie, Sean McKirdy, Billy King and Gary Oliver all started. Campbell switched four players from Forfar’s weekend 4-1 win over Stenhousemuir.
The visitors’ crisp passing movements around the Station Park artificial pitch were always likely to fashion more openings and King tried a left-footed attempt after cutting in from the right flank which Douglas collected comfortably. The interval arrived with the scoreline blank and it was clear this was becoming a test of patience for Hearts.
Juanma replaced Oliver with an hour played and 16-year-old Callumn Morrison took over from King. Forfar’s fitness levels were lasting well despite their part-time status and they continued to hold firm despite conceding a penalty in the 70th minute.
Nicholson’s low cross struck Kevin Nicoll’s hand as he slid in to block. Referee Greg Aitken pointed to the spot immediately, but Reilly’s penalty was repelled by Douglas. As if that wasn’t enough, the veteran keeper was alert enough to also push Juanma’s follow up for a corner.
Their joy wasn’t to last as McHattie finally rattled in the goal Hearts’ superiority merited. Callum Paterson, on as substitute, won possession in midfield and fed the ball wide to Nicholson. He passed inside to the onrushing McHattie who controlled the ball and rifled it high into the net beyond the helpless Douglas from eight yards.
But Forfar equalised with six minutes left. A high ball into the back post was met by the head of Dunlop for a looping header which dropped into the net at the other side of goal. Hearts, aiming to see the game out, were now faced with 30 minutes of extra-time. Had Denholm not skied his shot from sub Gavin Malin’s pass on 88 minutes, they might have been out of the cup altogether. It was indeed the winger’s last act, for he was sent off near the end of normal time. He had tripped both McGhee and Paterson inside a few minutes but, in truth, they were really his only two tackles of the night.
Hearts tried to exploit the fact Forfar were reduced to ten men. The slung cross after cross into the penalty box and earned their reward at the end of the first period of extra-time.
Morrison’s corner landed at the far corner of the box for Paterson to volley. The ball landed in the net at the far post via a deflection from Reilly. Campbell protested that the interval whistle should have been blown and was ordered to the stand for his comments. There was also a final red card for Nicoll for a reckless challenge on Morrison.