HEARTS have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the last time they won the League Cup in recent days, and their hopes of emulating that triumph this season were kept alive in dramatic fashion tonight after a penalty shoot-out.
Scorers: Dundee Utd - Russell (35); Hearts - Paterson (21)
Bookings: Dundee Utd - Rankin, Ryan; Hearts - McGowan, Barr (sent off), Webster
They took their place in the last four of the competition despite playing 40 minutes a man down after Darren Barr was sent off for a second yellow card.
Level at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and then extra-time, the Edinburgh team and
Dundee United were locked at three successful penalties apiece after the regulation ten spot-kicks. Scott Robinson and Stuart Armstrong then made it 4-4, captain Marius Zaliukas then put Hearts 5-4 up, and finally Sean Dillon sent his kick wide.
Striker John Sutton replaced winger Andy Driver in the only change from the Hearts team which had begun the draw with Ross County four days earlier, as John McGlynn opted to try out something close to a 4-4-2 line-up rather than the 4-5-1 he had been playing.
Ryan Stevenson started in Driver’s position wide on the right, and Sutton dropped
back when United were in possession, joining Callum Paterson up front when Hearts had
It was a flexible system, and the virtue of it was shown when Stevenson provided the assist for the opening goal on the far left. Sutton began the move by winning a ball in the air, and Novikovas evaded the challenge of Willo Flood to turn it on to Stevenson. From close to the left corner flag, the former Ipswich midfielder drove in a low cross, and Paterson reached it before the sluggish-looking Radoslaw Czerniak to score first-time from three yards out.
It was no more than Hearts deserved after an opening 20 minutes in which they had consistently taken the game to United. Novikovas had been not far off target with a speculative shot in the opening minute, and the team as a whole had pressed with an urgency and self-belief which at times this season has been conspicuously lacking.
Not long after the goal Danny Grainger came close to a second from a Ryan McGowan diagonal pass, but Czerniak saved the left-back’s shot at his near post. United had barely featured as an attacking force up to that point, and could have done with the creativity of Gary Mackay-
Steven, who was back on the bench following his knee injury, and his fellow-substitute, ex-Hearts player Rudi Skacel.
But from the moment Grainger’s shot was saved, the home team began to look livelier, and ten minutes before half-time they equalised from an attack down the right.
Keith Watson’s low ball inside was met by Michael Gardyne, and his blocked shot fell perfectly for Johnny Russell. The striker seized on the loose ball, stabbing it into the net from ten yards out.
The crowd was disappointing but at least those who had turned up were rewarded with a lively start to the second half.
United mounted a swift attack, but the move ended when Stuart Armstrong hurriedly shot wide, unaware he had time to control the ball first.
Hearts were not half as lively as they had been earlier, and ten minutes in, McGlynn opted to shake things up, bringing on Scott Robinson for Stevenson, who had taken a couple of knocks in the first half.
The impact was immediate, with first Mehdi Taouil bringing out a good save from Cierzniak, and then Paterson coming
agonisingly close to restoring his team’s lead.
The latter chance came from a cross by Grainger which was headed down into the path of Paterson by Sutton. The teenager shot on the spin, and watched disbelievingly as the ball bounced back off the left post and straight into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Mackay-Steven was next to come off the bench, and within a minute he was down after coming off worse in an aerial challenge with Andy Webster. United were becoming dominant territorially, but it was Hearts who had the next chance as Barr glanced a header wide from a Grainger cross.
It was the holding midfielder’s last positive involvement in the game. Minutes later he was booked for a crunching tackle on Russell, which meant that, having been cautioned earlier for a foul on Willo Flood, he was sent off.
Curiously, though, United appeared as happy as Hearts to play out the remaining ten minutes and take the game into extra time.
Skacel came on in the first period to a warm reception from the visiting support, then Driver replaced Novikovas just after the Lithuanian had sent a free-kick wide from 30 yards out.
Despite those changes, neither team showed any real enthusiasm for ending the match before the penalty shoot-out, although United were by far the stronger by this time.
John Rankin had a shot saved at the start of the second period, and Skacel had another off target with five minutes to go. Then with two minutes remaining Rankin crashed a shot off the post. Hearts had held out, and they showed grit to bounce back in the shootout after Danny Grainger, the scorer from the spot in the Scottish Cup final, had sent the first penalty crashing off the bar
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak, Watson, Daly (McLean 106), Dillon, Gunning, Flood, Rankin, Armstrong, Ryan (Skacel 94), Gardyne (Mackay-Steven 66), Russell. Subs not used: Banks, Millar.
Hearts: MacDonald, R McGowan, Webster, Zaliukas, Grainger, Taouil (D McGowan 108), Barr, Stevenson (Robinson 54), Novikovas (Driver 96), Sutton, Paterson. Subs not used: Enckelman, Smith.