Heart of Midlothian versus Queen of the South is often mentioned as being the most romantic sounding football match in the world.
Scorers: Hearts: McHattie (14) Hamill (51) (pen) Wilson (93); Queen of the South: McGuffie (20) Paton (62) Higgins (116)
It certainly proved hard to separate the teams last night beneath the floodlights at Tynecastle stadium.
They illuminated a terrific game where Queen of the South twice fought back to force extra time. The two captains then exchanged goals. Hearts’ skipper Danny Wilson made a timely intervention to re-direct a shot into the net just two minutes into extra time before Chris Higgins struck with just five minutes left of the second period.
It meant Hearts were required to endure penalties for a second successive time in the League Cup. As against Raith Rovers, these admirable youngsters prevailed. Substitute Dale Carrick scored the decisive kick in a 4-2 victory, after Queens pair Chris Mitchell and Michael Paton had failed to convert their efforts. Jamie Hamill hit high over for Hearts having earlier given the hosts the lead from the spot. To say a lot else had happened after that is an understatement.
This was the cruelest kiss-off imaginable for Queens, who passed up several chances to establish a lead in normal time.
For Hearts, additional satisfaction lies in the guarantee of further income from securing a place in the quarter finals. The bottom line might not fit with the poetic properties thrown up by the names of the competing teams. However, it is an ever-present concern for a club delving ever deeper into their scant player resources.
As so often the case with Hearts these days, the Tynecastle side included someone making their full debut last night. 18-year-old striker Gary Oliver – a nephew of former Hearts director of football Jim Duffy – was asked to lead the line, which was quite a task for the slightly-built teenager.
However, he rose to the challenge with admirable fortitude, and showed a willingness to compete with his invariably heftier and loftier markers before being replaced in the second half. He was able to outfox his opponents with an impressive first touch.
Indeed, he proved influential in Hearts taking the lead through Kevin McHattie in what was a rousing start to the cup-tie. The pace barely relented throughout the 120 minutes.
Queens quickly drew level and threatened to take the lead before half-time but were frustrated in their efforts due partly to Derek Lyle’s carelessness when presented with a clear chance to score about six yards from goal. Rather than watch the bulge he looked in horror as the ball cleared the bar by several feet.
It felt like a significant let-off for Hearts, who had started the game so brightly. Those following the fortunes of the hosts were the first to be given reason to leap to their feet when Hearts edged ahead after 14 minutes.
The impressive Oliver helped create the opening with a dribble that the visitors did not deal with as well as was required. When the ball ran loose McHattie was the first to pounce, taking a touch and then driving a powerful shot beyond Antell. It was a setback for Queen of the South, who had surely sensed an opportunity to claim a Premiership scalp given the youthful make-up of their hosts. By contrast, the visitors looked a rather doughty outfit. Anchored in midfield by the veteran Derek Young, they refused to be disheartened despite going behind on three separate occasions. Ryan McGuffie, meanwhile, provided further experience in defence.
Indeed, it was the right-back who brought Queens back into the game after 18 minutes. He was the first to follow up his own header that had been saved by Jamie MacDonald following a corner and he stabbed the rebound home, much to the delight of the impressive travelling support from Dumfries.
Despite the two goals, the most memorable moment of the first half had to be the miss from Lyle after 34 minutes. The striker had time and space to pick his spot after a favourable deflection had left him with only MacDonald to beat.
Lyle did everything wrong; lifting his head, he blazed over the bar. It was a wretched effort and the lazy nature of it might have threatened to spread some dejection among the visitors. Instead, they redoubled their efforts to score before the interval and Paton came very near to putting Queens ahead when hitting a first time shot just the wrong side of the post.
Lyle’s miss began to take on a more serious significance just four minutes after half-time, when Hearts were awarded a penalty. Jamie Hamill’s ball through the middle slid into the path of a galloping Jamie Walker, whose first touch seemed to take the ball away from him. However, the attentions of both Chris Higgins and Andy Dowie saw him fall to the ground.
The referee was well positioned and pointed quickly to the spot. However, it looked harsh indeed on Queens. The fact that neither Higgins nor Dowie were booked suggested that McKendrick was not sure in his own mind what had happened. Not that Hamill was concerned about the whys and wherefores. He struck the penalty past Calum Antell with ease.
But Queens again showed great determination to level the scores just after the hour mark and courtesy of a breakaway move that saw Lyle square the ball for Michael Paton, who drilled the ball into the net beneath the noses of the away supporters.
They were relishing this energetic performance from their side, and while still an open match, it felt as though the impetus now lay with the Championship side. Ian McShane should have prevented the need for extra-time when presented with a chance in front of goal when just three minutes remained.
Again, Queens had cause to rue this failure to take an opportunity. Just three minutes into the additional 30 minutes’ play Wilson managed to get a decisive touch on Hamill’s shot from McHattie’s corner. The onus was now firmly on Hearts to hold on, and again they failed to do so. Higgins did not need to be asked twice as he lashed the ball high into the net after it broke to him in the box on an epic evening of cup football – one that sadly had to end with the anguish provided by penalties.