Rarely can an appointment with their local rivals have been so hard earned. Hearts ensured a meeting with Hibs in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup for the second successive season after scoring three times in extra-time to finally see off spirited Raith Rovers.
It was easy to sympathise with the Championship visitors, who contributed so much. But Ian Cathro will simply be glad Walker’s 104th- minute strike from the spot – the second Hearts penalty in the opening half of extra-time – and Bjorn Johnsen’s later tap-in spared him another uncomfortable experience in front of the cameras post match.
The head coach would have found forgiveness from the fans hard to come by had Hearts missed an opportunity to knock the holders out next month. But credit where it’s due. They held their nerve after going behind early on from Bobby Barr’s deflected effort, 18-year-old Rory Currie scoring his first senior goal just after the half-hour mark. Hearts then refused to be deflected from their purpose after Raith substitute Ryan Hardie equalised Malaury Martin’s 92 nd-minute penalty, Walker picking himself up to score from the spot following Kyle Benedictus’ injudicious challenge on him. The same pair were involved in the earlier penalty incident.
Johnsen confirmed Hearts’ passage to the fifth round with a tap in with five minutes of extra-time left. That was tough on Raith, who, until tiring towards the end of a long, draining night, seemed possessed by a demonic fury - fuelled, perhaps, by indignation. It can’t have been difficult for them to form the impression that many felt an Edinburgh derby in the next round was inevitable. While the diggers and trucks sat silent in the building site outside the main stand, the visitors formed their own potential wrecking crew.
It was football stripped bare of its inhibitions - and all the better for it. Both teams were effectively playing 4-4-2 and refused to be separated after another 90 minutes of cup action.
As so often happens, the breakthrough came shortly into extra-time. Just 90 seconds had elapsed when Benedictus upended Walker in the box. Martin, who had given the ball away in the run up to Raith’s opener, made amends with a well-struck penalty to ‘keeper Kevin Cuthbert’s left.
The Hearts fans thought they could finally breathe a sigh of relief but Raith responded after a mistake from John Souttar allowed Stewart to cross for Hardie to convert.
The unease from the home stands was palpable from the moment Raith took a 14th- minute lead through a deflected effort from Barr. Regrettably for Martin, making his home debut in midfield, the origins of the goal lay in his misplaced pass in midfield. Raith quickly transferred the ball to Barr who bore down on goal. When Barr felt close enough to shoot luck played its part. The ball cannoned off Hughes and looped over Jack Hamilton into the far corner.
Another clumsy challenge from Raith skipper Kyle Benedictus in the penalty area on Bjorn Johnsen was a moment of concern for the visitors, as was a left-foot shot from Andraz Struna that brought out the best from Cuthbert. But they were otherwise fairly comfortable in their bid to defend the lead for long enough to cause anxiety to spread through the ground.
It was getting to that point when Currie intervened. The 18 year-old had had few opportunities to shine prior to equalising but had shown neat footwork and a willingness to make intelligent runs off the ball. It was one of these from which he reaped dividend after 32 minutes.
Johnsen was the creator, stretching out his long legs to make a break from midfield and having the composure to slide a pass through to Currie, with the visitors’ defence, for once, left exposed. The striker produced a nerveless finish on a night of high tension when slotting first-time past Cuthbert.
But first goal on a first full start it might well have been, the celebrations were not prolonged. Cathro waved his players back. There was work still to be done, with Sam Nicholson replacing Prince Buaben at the break after three months out with injury.
Hearts continued with their young forward pair of Johnsen and Currie, now supported from the flanks by Walker and Nicholson. Cathro was clearly trying to impose his side’s game on Raith, wary also of their recent tendency to fall away after half-time. But the lower tier side were not for being suppressed, Stewart seeing a shot deflected into the side-netting. The striker was unable to gather a cross from Barr that was packed with a little too much power.
It took Hearts until the 70 th minute to fashion a clear scoring chance – and Souttar will know he should have put his side ahead rather than lift a header over the bar from Martin’s free-kick. Johnsen was also frustrated after going close with two late efforts, the second of which grazed the far post.
But extra time was a mini-drama in its own right, Martin’s penalty seemingly putting Hearts’ fears at rest before Hardie converted a square pass from Stewart. Further goals from Walker and Johnsen were harsh on Raith. But Cathro, in need of a break himself, won’t worry about what’s fair.