Hearts sense end of 50-year wait after shoot-out victory
FOR a club which has won the Scottish Cup three times in the past 14 years, Hearts have a surprisingly poor recent record in the League Cup. But, after Wednesday night’s penalty shoot-out win against Dundee United, there is a growing feeling at Tynecastle that this could be the year when their barren run comes to an end.
It was all of 50 years ago that the trophy was last won by Hearts, with Norrie Davidson scoring the only goal in the final against Kilmarnock. Since then they have only reached the final once, back in November 1996 when they were beaten 4-3 by Rangers. They have been knocked out at the semi-final stage no fewer than five times.
As Scottish Cup holders, they lost to St Johnstone in 1998 then, five years later, they were defeated by Rangers. In 2005, with John Robertson as manager, Hearts were beaten by Motherwell at Easter Road, then in 2008 Rangers again prevented them from reaching the final. The most recent occasion on which they fell at the penultimate hurdle was in 2010, when, with Jim Jefferies having just begun his second spell as manager, they lost 1-0 to St Mirren at Fir Park.
Hearts have still won the League Cup more times than any other club except the Old Firm and Aberdeen but seven new names have gone on the trophy since they lifted it for the fourth time in 1962.
A victory for St Mirren or Inverness Caledonian Thistle this year would add an eighth name, while Celtic, the other semi-finalists, are aiming for a 15th victory in the competition.
Hearts would no doubt prefer to avoid the Glasgow club when the draw is made next week, but, if they are paired with Neil Lennon’s team, they will not be overawed, having prevailed in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April. And, if they meet St Mirren or Inverness instead, they are unlikely to give in to complacency. The 2010 semi-final defeat will make sure of that in the case of the Paisley team, as will the fact they lost their last game against Caley Thistle.
But, with the semi-finals not being played until late January, Hearts can simply relax for the time being and take pleasure in the fact that they are in the last four. Given their well-publicised need to find more money, the prospect of a showpiece semi-final will give their support something to look forward to over the next two months and more, and should also help to keep the playing squad enthused and eager to fight for their places in the team.
They certainly had to fight against United, especially after being reduced to ten men following the sending off of Darren Barr for a second bookable offence. That was in the second half of normal time, with the score standing at 1-1, and when extra time came and went without further scoring the quarter-final tie went to penalties.
Hearts were knocked out of last year’s League Cup on penalties by Ayr United and, when Danny Grainger and John Sutton failed to score with their first two kicks, it looked like they were going to suffer the same fate against United. But Gary Mackay-Steven missed then Jamie MacDonald saved from John Rankin and, finally, with the score at 5-4 in Hearts’ favour, United captain Sean Dillon fired his penalty wide.
“I was happy to take one and was confident about scoring,” Dillon said. “It was a bad penalty.
“Don’t take away from them. To be down to ten men for so long, they defended really well.”
MacDonald was happy with his own contribution and with his team being back in the last four of a competition at the first time of asking. “I got close to pretty much all of them,” he said of the penalties. “Last year was fantastic, winning the Scottish Cup. We haven’t won the League Cup in 50 years, so it would be nice to rectify that and add another bit of silverware.”
The semi-final draw will be held at Broughton High School in Edinburgh on Thursday, 8 November at 2.30pm. The ties will be played on the weekend of 26 January next year and the clubs’ league games that Saturday will be moved.
l The league game between Hearts and Dundee United at Tynecastle on Saturday 22 December has been switched to the Sunday with a 4.30pm kick off and will be live on ESPN.
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