Kilmarnock 0 Hibs 0 AET (4-5 pens): Chris Maxwell the hero as Hibs set up semi-final clash with Celtic

The Hibs players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-outThe Hibs players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out
The Hibs players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out
They weren’t supposed to be able to tough it out. They were supposed to be mentally weak.

Yet, at Kilmarnock last night Paul Heckingbottom's Hibs last night showed the sort of fortitude that has so often seemed beyond them to claim a nail-biting penalty shoot-out victory to take them through to a Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic.

The utter bluntness of both teams across 120 goalless minutes made it fitting it took until the 12th penalty for only a second save from a keeper - Hibs’ Chris Maxwell blocking a straight-down-the-middle effort from Niko Hamalainen to secure his team a 5-4 success and relieve the pressure on Heckingbottom. For now, at least.

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The Easter Road men, who withstood late pressure as they lost Ryan Porteous to a straight red in the closing minutes of extra-time for wildly wiping out Liam Millar, looked like they might lose the shoot-out when Oli Shaw had a casual effort saved with the penalty scores tied at 1-1. But Stephen O’Donnell, through horribly shanking his kick wide of the post, brought the visitors back to life when he failed to make it 4-3 for the home team.

The penalty drama followed a 120 minutes that produced only fleeting extra-time chances, following a 90 minutes in which these were as rare as hen’s teeth. For the Hibs support, one of the biggest intrigues came hours earlier when they learned their team’s starting line-up.

Recriminations over the Easter Road side’s demoralising derby defeat seemed to be played out in the team fielded by Heckingbotham last night. Or more pointedly, the fact that Scott Allan and Florian Kamberi were absent from it.

Both were banished to the bench after singularly failing to get going when the going got tough as the Leith club surrendered a lead in the 2-1 home loss on Sunday.

In a pre-match radio interview, Heckingbottom returned to oft-voiced laments conncering the undeniable softness of his side, and the need for them to do the “dirty” and “ugly” aspects of the game with much more conviction.

For long spells across the first hour last night, the beleaguered Hibs manager might have pondered that there can be too much of a good thing. The visitors betrayed none of the frailties or damaging niceties that he obviously believes have cast doubts over his position. From both sides, there was only doggedness and dig, dig and doggedness. The tie served up as a result was all-too-often indigestible slop.

In light of their 2-0 victory over Hibs at the same ground only 10 days ago, Kilmarnock might have been expected to produce more in the way of threat against opponents that hadn’t kept a clean sheet since the opening day of the league season - the fortunate 1-0 victory over St Mirren that day also the last time they won.

In that first week of August, it was Rugby Park manager Angelo Alessio who was the Scottish coach with the biggest target on his back. He has quelled the snipers out in force after he began his tenure in Ayrshire with a Europa League qualifying exit at the hands of Welsh part-timers Connah Quay Nomads with steady progress.

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Shut-outs in each of their past three home games has proved key to Alessio enjoying breathing space but last night’s quarter-final encounter was suffociated because it didn’t appear that either team could breach their opponents’ backline.

They were both competent but bereft when it came to constructive play with any real edge. Stevie Mallan, fresh from his derby screamer, smacking an effort just wide of the post was about all that passed for an opportunity.

On his first Kilmarnock start following his loan move from Venezia, Harvey St Clair was bright and eager on the left flank but it genuinely felt as if this was a strikeless tussle.

Christian Doidge had so little service it would be unfair to suggest that he did not make the most of another chance to add to a goal tally that is restricted to lower league opposition.

To keep themselves engaged Kilmarnock supporters had to indulge in calling out Willie Collum for all manner of spurious penalty claims, them coming over most shouty when Eamon Brophy went down after a challenge towards the end of the first half.

By the end of the secon half, Heckingbottom had turned to Allan and Oli Shaw to provide some sort of creative spark. It said everything about the tussle that playmaker Allan’s one contribution in the final 20 minutes of the 90 was picking up a booking for a crude challenge. He doesn’t do the ugly well. Last night, that didn’t ultimately matter.