The performance was not one to savour but when Hearts’ name was drawn against Motherwell in yesterday’s Betfred Cup quarter-final draw, no-one involved with the Gorgie club cared how they had made it past Dunfermline to get there. All that mattered was that they had found a way.
“That’s how you have to look at it,” said stand-in captain John Souttar, pictured, after the Premiership side had squeezed past the Fifers. “We were talking about it, the boys who have been to finals, and we all agreed that there are horrible games along the way, when you have to grind out a result.
“I went to two finals with Dundee United and, on one of the runs, we came close to losing at Dumbarton – but nobody cared when we got to the final. Games like that, nobody remembers them.
“If we get to Hampden, nobody is going to be saying: ‘Oh, remember that game at Dunfermline, it was terrible’. We’ve just got to strive to get to Hampden, because it’s something this club hasn’t achieved in a few years. As a group, we have that as a target.”
The narrow victory over Allan Johnston’s Championship team leaves the capital side only two games away from a Hampden final. The first hurdle will be a home game against a Fir Park side who ousted them from last season’s Scottish Cup and they know that they will need to improve on Saturday’s performance to progress further.
Dunfermline provided a very stern test and but for goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal’s heroics, Hearts’ cup ambitions would have been thwarted.
Olly Lee ultimately scored the only goal of the game but it was the man at the back who provided the most telling contributions as Dunfermline took the play to their guests.
Manager Craig Levein said a couple of Zlamal’s interventions were no less than he would expect but even he had to admit that his last-gasp, point-blank save was special, hailing it as “outstanding”.
Ryan Williamson was responsible for serving up the first of the big chances, delivering in a fabulous ball in the 69th minute, which Faissal El Bakhtaoui managed to get on the end of . His acrobatic effort was foiled by Zlamal, though.
Danny Devine was the next to challenge, as the home side disregarded current standings and went in hunt of a goal.They had been stung by Lee’s low, right-foot shot, which zipped through legs to take home keeper Lee Robinson by surprise and find its way into the net, and were swarming upfield seeking an equaliser.
But Devine was also denied by Zlamal and, with the game already into stoppage time, the Czech pulled off the wonder save that earned praise from his boss and knocked the stuffing out of Dunfermline.
Aidan Connolly was the man with the effort on goal, but with quick reactions and an impressive shot-stopping instinct the Czech keeper blocked the close-range attempt and ensured Hearts survived to contest another round of the competition.
“I thought that during most of the game we were the better team,” said Pars goalie Lee Robinson, who was proud of his side’s attack but disappointed to not reap any reward. “We could have had three or four and at the end we put the pressure right on and we’re disappointed not to get anything.”
He tried to rectify that as time ticked down, bursting free from his own box, overlapping his defence and instigating another attack.
“I have done that a couple of times and the lad was just backing off so I thought, why not?I have been doing it since I was a kid so it’s nothing different.
“I just thought late on that everyone was a bit knackered but I still had a bit of energy. But I probably should have done better. I probably should have tried to beat the full-back!”