But with manager Craig Levein’s job under scrutiny, they are finally starting to show the kind of resolve football fans demand, and despite some calamitous moments in this match their fortitude allowed them to snatch their first victory of the season at Tynecastle and book a return to Hampden.
It came down to a penalty shoot out to settle last night’s keenly contested League Cup tie but they held their nerve and now face their third successive domestic semi final.
On the back of the weekend derby win, it left Tynecastle bouncing.
But for a long time it looked like this might prove a masterclass in how to undermine your own cup ambitions as the home side gifted their opponents not one but two penalties to overshadow all their good work further up the field..Aberdeen were happy to accept such generosity.
A full-throttle contest, Hearts looked reinvigorated by their weekend derby win and the capital side were on it from the first whistle as they tried to engineer their first home win of the season.
Within the opening two minutes they had carved out two wonderful chances and were brimming with pace and intent as they charged at their guests’ goal.
Uche Ikpeazu was the first to threaten, bursting forward with just seconds gone and launching a dipping shot at Joe Lewis’ goal. It beat the keeper but crashed off the bar and although he got a head to the rebound the Hearts striker sent that effort just wide.
But it got the crowd onside right from the off. The noise levels rose a minute later when Ryo Meshino, who is quickly becoming a fan favourite, cut back in from the left and, dancing past two opponents, had a dig that had to be slapped down by the underfire Aberdeen goale.
But, although Aberdeen had started the match more tentatively, they did forge forward in the 11th minute and got their reward as Ryan Hedges used his superior muscle to trouble young Aaron Hickey. The derby hero received some back up from captain Christophe Berra but when the Aberdeen played managed to make it past him as well, he was fouled and the ref showed no reluctance in pointing to the spot.
Sam Cosgrove, back in the starting line-up after an impressive cameo from the bench in Saturday’s victory over Livingston, was an oasis of calm as he cooly stroked the spotkick low to Joel Periera’s right, with the keeper diving the opposite way.
That early advantage was against the run of play, though, and Meshino had another effort a few minutes later. Uche Ikpeazu then took the play to the Aberdeen rearguard, His run was eventually halted but despite his appeals there was no penalty.
There was an equaliser in the 22nd minute. When a ball was played in and the Aberdeen backline failed to clear, leaving Steven Maclean in space. The veteran striker composed himself took a step forward and sent a right foot shot past Lewis.
An absorbing cup tie, with solid tackles, counter attacks, lungbursting runs and no quarter given, the teams went toe to toe.
But Aberdeen are formidable foes and having rolled with the blows, they hit back in the 30th minute, punishing Loic Damour’s recklessness as he made a rash challenge on Aberden’s James Wilson, despite the fact that the visitor had little support and was running away from goal.
Cosgrove chose the opposite corner but he was just as clinical with his second spot kick as he had been with the first.
It never looked like being the last goal of this encounter, not as the play raged from end to end and having clawed back a deficit against Hibs on Sunday Hearts were at it again.
With the game already deep into time added on, Craig Halkett grabbed the equaliser that sent the home fans nuts and the match into extra time.
There was a long ball upfield and although Aiden Keena’s first touch wasn’t great the ball found its way back out to Jake Mulraney, who whipped in a cross form the left picking out the waiting Halkett on edge of six yard and he headed in the equaliser.
Each side had opportunities to seal it but when Cosgrove launched an effort high and wide and then Sean Clare’s low effort was gathered by Lewis it was left for penalties to separate them.
And it was third time unlucky for the Aberdeen striker as he failed with their first effort. Glenn Whelan netted his and when Niall McGinn scorched his over the bar and Michael Smith converted for the home team, there was an inevitability. Bruce Anderson made it three misses from three allowing Keena to wrap matters up and show that this team does have character, sending his shot into the roof of the net.