Hibernian and Hearts will meet for the third successive season in knockout competition after the teams were paired together in the quarter-final draw for the League Cup at Hampden Park yesterday.
The clubs’ reward for overcoming lower league opposition amid a flurry of goals this week is a game against each other at Easter Road, to be played on either 29 or 30 October.
The remaining ties saw Premiership league leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle drawn at home to Dundee United, while Motherwell entertain Aberdeen at Fir Park. Morton have been handed a home tie against St Johnstone following their shock exploits on Tuesday night, when the Championship side defeated Celtic at Parkhead.
It is the first time since the 1959/60 season that both Celtic and Rangers have failed to reach the last eight of the tournament, which is currently sponsorless.
Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, yesterday stressed that sponsors could still come on board and attach their name to the remaining rounds of this season’s competition. They have been given every incentive to do so after former Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels and Scotland Under-21 manager Billy Stark pulled out the balls containing the names of Hibs and Hearts to set up another Edinburgh derby.
The teams played each other in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup last season, with Hibs triumphing 1-0.
That was a measure of revenge for their 5-1 thrashing at Hampden by their rivals in the final of the same competition eight months earlier. Hearts have defeated Hibs already this season in the league. Currently in administration, the Tynecastle side had hoped for a fixture that would attract the attention of television companies at a time when income is such a critical issue at the club.
Hibs ran out 5-3 winners over Stranraer on Tuesday, while Hearts needed extra-time and penalties to dispose of Queen of the South after a 3-3 draw. With the next league meeting not due until New Year’s Day, supporters from both teams willed another meeting in the Autumn.
“It’s as good a draw as we could have hoped for in terms of finance – that or a home tie with Hibernian, or Aberdeen with their travelling support,” said David Southern, the Hearts managing director. “Hibernian away is a great tie for us. We haven’t budgeted for cup runs, so this is bonus money as far as we are concerned.”
However, Southern cautioned against expecting such a high-profile and well-attended match will help take Hearts out of administration more quickly than expected. There is still a long road ahead, he stressed.
“There is no timescale on the administration,” he explained. “Talks are still ongoing in Lithuania and our administrators are waiting to hear the results of those talks. If those talks are resolved, it will then be a case of our administrators dealing with the administrators of Ubig and Ukio Bankas and, hopefully, the club can come out of administration sooner rather than later.
“But, for the fans, there is probably not a better tie and we would hope that it could attract a good crowd. I think we’ll certainly take a big support to Easter Road and it might make the TV channels.”
Southern described Hearts’ victory over Hibs in August as the one that got “the season going” for the club, who were hit with a St Johnstone.
“It was a very, very crucial victory so early in the season,” added Southern.
“You can see what has happened since then – we’ve gained ground on three of the teams above us in the Premiership and we are now in a much better position than we were at the start of the season.
“It was a foundation stone that was put in place and we have to forget about that now and look at this game in its own. It’s a great cup tie and I’ve no doubt our fans will get behind the team at Easter Road.
John Murray, meanwhile, yesterday paid tribute to the mettle of the youngsters who Hearts have relied on to take them through two penalty shoot-out deciders in the League Cup this season.
“They’ve no fear, that’s the one thing,” said the Hearts academy director.
“Jamie Hamill and Ryan Stevenson make sure there’s no fear in the boys. They’ll go and play anybody, anytime and anywhere. They are up for it. It’s a new thing for them and they’re all rising to the challenge which is good for them.”
“There are probably some boys who came in a year too early but at the end of the day they have to play at some time,” he added. “So it’s good for them to come through. Jordan McGhee played the other night [against Queen of the South] and he’s still just 17.
“The problem we have is that we have to risk burn out as there aren’t enough players to change it around. So until we get out of administration this is what we’ve got. It always helps when young boys break through together. The pace of the game and the strength of the opposition sometimes takes its toll but it’s good to get a bunch through at the same time.”
League Cup quarter-finals draw in full:
Inverness CT v Dundee Utd
Morton v St Johnstone
Hibernian v Hearts
Motherwell v Aberdeen
(Ties on 29/30 October)