Hearts' 4-1 win over Airdrie has fans making Scottish Cup proclamation as Lawrence Shankland question shifts
It took little more than 20 minutes for the chant to ring out across the Exelsior Stadium in Airdrie: “When the Hearts go up to lift the Scottish Cup, we’ll be there.”
With their side already three goals up, what had been presented as a tricky fifth round assignment away to an in-form Championship side was all but won to leave Hearts fans confidently proclaiming that the Hampden silverware will be theirs come May.
And there is every reason to believe that they could be right as their side followed up their impressive league form with a polished and professional performance that made light work of Rhys McCabe’s sprightly young Diamonds side.
Lawrence Shankland, who else, set Hearts on their way in the 11th minute before two goals in two minutes from Kenneth Vargas and the impressive Calum Nieuwenhof put them out of sight. It was tough on Airdrie, who had started the match impressively in an attacking sense, winning six corners, hitting the bar and forcing Craig Gordon into a reflex save that would have had Steve Clarke taking note, but to their credit, they never let their heads drop and continued to try to take the game to Hearts while playing out from the back.
They were rewarded when Adam Frizzell reduced the deficit on 35 minutes but Hearts passage was never in doubt and Shankland had the final say in the second half with his second goal of the match taking his season’s tally to 25. The question has surely moved beyond whether or not he is on the plane for Euro 2024 to whether he is in contention to start.
Airdrie's attack-minded start, committing bodies forward at every opportunity, sent a message that they were not going to sit back and defend against their Premiership opponents. Admirable, but not particularly effective when it came to dealing with Hearts' quality in the final third.
The opener was the result of a brilliant flowing move that ended with Jorge Grant sending Alex Cochrane galloping into acres of space down the left and with several team-mates awaiting a cutback, the ball was drawn to the boot of Shankland as if magnetised and the Hearts skipper made no mistake.
Airdrie came close to an equaliser when striker Nikolay Todorov threw himself at a near post cross but Gordon, making the second appearance of his comeback from a double leg break, produced a brilliant point-blank save. The hosts came even closer when a corner was flicked to the back post and Mason Hancock headed against the bar. That was a reprieve for Hearts, and they made the most of it by delivering a double knock-out blow.
Halkett was the architect of goal number two as his pinpoint ball over the top of the Airdrie defence was controlled by Vargas and although Josh Rae made the save, the ball ricocheted back off the Hearts forward and rolled into the net.
It was 3-0 just 90 seconds later when the shellshocked Airdrie defence allowed Nieuwenhof too much space at the edge of the box and then came to regret it as the Australian fired a brilliant low strike into the bottom corner.
Halkett went off injured – a worrying sight given his recent troubles – and Airdrie pulled a goal back when Adam Frizzell planted a downward header beyond Gordon. But Shankland showed his class and composure with a delicate lift over the advancing Rae on 73 minutes to rubber stamp the win for Hearts.
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