NOTHING, it seems, is going to be easy for Hearts this term. After a fraught weekend, manager Gary Locke must have gone into this match hoping it would prove the calm after the storm.
Scorers: Raith - Fox 50; Hearts - Hamill 62 (pen)
Aet, Hearts won 5-4 on penalties
Referee: E Colvin. Att: 3,668
He had no such luck as his young team were taken to penalties before they could final secure a place in the next round of the League Cup.
While the idea of trying to stretch this squad through a cup run as well as the league duties must have been daunting for everyone at the capital club, there was the players’ pride to consider as well as the small matter of the additional revenue progress through the rounds would generate.
But this was no mundane affair.
An unchanged side from Saturday’s starting XI, Locke was forced into a rejig midway through the first half as goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald was injured. But as has proved the case time and time again this season, the kids were all right, with Ridgers eventually saving twice in the tense penalty shoot out before Brad McKay slotted home the decisive spot kick.
Ridgers had been fairly busy all night, though, as Grant Murray’s Raith Rovers looked intent on pulling off a cup upset. For those who had only seen the score from the pre-season friendly, they will not have been considered likely contenders, but anyone who saw the match knew that 5-0 had been far from representative.
That evening was also the ideal spur for the lower league hosts, who also had ex-Hearts players Jason Thomson, Calum Elliot and Gordon Smith in their midst, all having something to prove to their former employers.
In a tight match, it was Raith who took the lead in the 50th minute. It was a melee that summed up the problems Hearts had been having all evening when it came to cleanly clearing their lines but also showed the willingness of the players to put their bodies on the line.
In the end that wasn’t enough though, and with prostrate players all over the box as the ball ricocheted about like a pinball, Raith finally found the net, Grant Anderson’s shot parried by Ridgers and Liam Fox finally slamming it across goal and just inside the far post
The response from the Hearts fans in the 3,668 crowd was immediate, another example of how they are relishing their role of 12th man these days and they were rewarded 11 minutes later when Jamie Hamill stepped up to coolly send Raith keeper David McGurn the wrong way and level the score from the penalty spot.
The award had been won by the sheer pace and drive of young Jamie Walker who caused panic in the home ranks as he burst into the final third, although it was Billy King who was felled as he raced onto the ball which was finally threaded through.
Hearts were given a further boost soon afterwards with Hill’s sending off, the red card coming for what the referee deemed violent conduct.
Hamill was on the receiving end and, feeling he had made a meal of matters, the Raith support were quick to turn him into the pantomime villain, booing his every move from there on in. Not that it seemed to bother him.
Hearts had managed the first real chance of the game when Walker’s pass inside found Jason Holt in the fifth minute but while his shot was on target, it lacked the bite needed to really trouble McGurn.
But in a very open game, Raith were also capable of causing some consternation in the opposing defence.
In the 14th minute Elliot went down looking for a penalty but neither the referee nor the away fans at that end of the ground were convinced and then, in 21st minute, Smith made a break down the left wing which gave Joe Cardle the chance to drive a low shot goalwards.
It forced a save from MacDonald and his early exit but his replacement was soon tested as well as, with Ridgers having to pull off a save at the feet of Smith in the 36th minute when his former club-mate was through on goal.
It was Raith who were applying the pressure, with Grant Anderson and Joe Cardle looking dangerous down the flanks while Hearts were full of industry but looked disjointed and harried, rushing attacks and defensively resorting to rushed clearances to no-one in particular which only invited the ball back on to them.
Raith came close again just before the break and this time it was a fierce drive from distance from Elliot that prompted a diving save from Ridgers.
The goals saw the game ebb and flow further as the momentum swung but as time ticked away it was Hearts desperately trying to press their extra man advantage home.
They had the better chances in extra time as well but Raith were resolute and only a penalty shoot-out could separate them.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Hill, Booth, Anderson (Vaughan 83), Fox, Moon (Callachan 98), Cardle, Elliot, Smith (Ellis 74). Unused subs: Roberts, Donaldson
Hearts: MacDonald (Ridgers 24) , McGowan, McKay, Wilson, McHattie, King (Smith 76) , Hamill, Robinson (Oliver, 54), Walker, Holt, Paterson. Unused subs: McGhee, Tapping