It was more tortured than it needed to have been, the replay in itself offering Championship side Partick Thistle more hope than should have been the case against a team which feels it can go all the way in the competition.
Battling back from a goal down, Hearts cancelled out Scott McDonald’s 17th minute opener with a goal from Uche Ikpeazu in the 24th minute and then took the lead through a penalty from Sean Clare in the 35th.
They had several opportunities from set pieces and open play to then kill they game off, and also had another spot kick. But they allowed all those opportunities to slip by, and had to survive a late penalty shout to eventually see out the game and move into the last four for the first time since they won the cup in 2012.
The final whistle brought relief for the home contingent but left Gary Caldwell and his players feeling hugely aggrieved.
The last-minute penalty claim looked a valid shout as substitute Joe Cardle went down under a challenge from John Souttar but, having been left raging as the officials waved all protests aside, they pushed with everything they had, throwing goalkeeper Conor Hazard upfield as they swung in a couple of corners and then appealed again, this time for a free-kick on the edge of the area as Christophe Berra impeded Miles Storey.
There was momentary respite as Sean Clare counterattacked and had Hazard rushing back but the final effort was over the bar and Hearts had to rely on Bobby Madden’s full time whistle to offer them respite.
Knowing who they will face in the semi-final had given both teams plenty of incentive, with Championship side Caley Thistle arguably offering the easier path to May’s showcase finale,
That insight meant the outcome of this one was never going to be a foregone conclusion. Partick remained the underdogs but their ability to take the tie to a replay meant that Hearts would have to be wary of the threat they posed.
Storm Gareth, with its rain and swirling wind, helped turn the contest into a war of attrition for those spectating as well as the players and Hearts also had the pressure of delivering in front of an increasingly frustrated home support, annoyed that this match was even required after their team had failed to dispatch the second tier strugglers first time around.
A season that had promised so much, the thought of ending the final stab at silverware by meekly succumbing to lower ranked opponents was almost unthinkable, certainly unpalatable. But even with that in mind, the home side started slowly as Gary Caldwell’s men matched anything the capital side could throw at them.
Looking for things to be done more swiftly, Hearts struggled to find a cutting edge, with all the early efforts coming from set pieces. Ikpeazu won the first in the third minute but Ben Garuccio’s free-kick was saved by Hazard as it headed towards the postage stamp corner.
It was a night when the big striker caused Thistle problems but it was the diminutive McDonald who gave the visitors the lead in the 17th minute. Thistle defender Steven Saunders’ header was blocked but the former Celtic striker stabbed it over the line.
It was a jolt for Hearts who had to up the ante and Ikpeazu’s goal seven minutes later was vital in settling the growing angst. Played into him in a central area, the forward turned and somehow struck it through a sea of bodies and into the bottom corner,
It was his first goal since returning from injury and he made a beeline for the dugout to celebrate with a manager who had kept faith in him and awarded him a contract extension.
In the 35th minute, Hearts winger Jake Mulraney’s running proved key as he chased in on goal, and when the Thistle defence allowed the ball to bounce, he forced a reckless decision by Hazard who pulled him down to prevent him getting in on goal.
Clare finished from the spot as Hearts began to assert themselves, with Arnaud Djoum impressively pulling strings, but while they looked fairly comfortable for most of the game, they passed up another opportunity from the spot after Ikpeazu was felled and stepped up to take that spot kick himself. It was weak and easily saved but the inability to get a third goal allowed Thistle to hang in there and rally for a final flurry.