Hearts face a decisive Betfred Cup group tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Sunday after a comfortable 5-0 win against ten-man Cowdenbeath. Steven MacLean, Uche Ikpeazu, Peter Haring, Steven Naismith and Michael Smith claimed the goals after the visitors had Martin Scott sent off in the first half.
The result – allied to Inverness beating Raith Rovers – ensures the Edinburgh club can still win Group C despite being deducted two points for using an ineligible player. John Robertson’s side travel to Tynecastle on Sunday as group leaders knowing their opponents can usurp them on goal difference with victory.
Hearts were deducted two points and fined as punishment for fielding Andy Irving against Cove Rangers last week when he wasn’t properly registered. Their points total was therefore reduced from five points to three. Cowdenbeath arrived in Edinburgh joint top of the group on six points alongside Inverness.
Teenager Callumn Morrison began brightly for Hearts at right wing-back, with his runs down the flank exposing Cowdenbeath. Levein changed formation before the half-hour mark to propel Morrison further forward.
Events swung in Hearts’ favour on 31 minutes with Scott’s dismissal. He went for a 50-50 challenge with Christophe Berra near the halfway line and caught the Scotland internationalist late. Both men rolled on the turf and referee Barry Cook quickly arrived to produce a red card for Scott.
Cowdenbeath’s fortunes worsened when midfielder David Cox was forced off with blood pouring from his head. He had been caught by Morrison’s studs while trying to ride a challenge. Hearts also made a change when Anthony McDonald replaced Irving.
Hearts were increasing the pace and creating opportunities whenever they attacked but the final penetration eluded them in the first half.
Within four minutes of the restart, the deadlock was broken. Ben Garuccio pressed forward to use his excellent delivery from the left and aimed a fine ball into the six-yard area. MacLean was lurking and threw himself at the cross, appearing to connect with his chest. It was sufficient to guide the ball away from David McGurn and into the far corner of the net.
Hearts were now eager to increase their advantage with goal difference in their minds.
Substitute Ikpeazu produced the killer touch needed on 64 minutes. He took possession near the edge of the Cowdenbeath penalty area with his back to goal, touched the ball clear of his marker and dispatched a thumping left-footed shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner. He looked suitably delighted with his first competitive Hearts goal, too.
Cowdenbeath centre-backs Jamie Pyper and David Marsh took exception to the problems Ikpeazu was causing and left a couple of late challenges on the hulking Englishman. The hostility didn’t deter him despite being booked along with Marsh for niggling off the ball.
The third goal arrived from a textbook corner kick. McDonald’s curling delivery was met by the towering head of Haring, who glanced it high into the net. Two minutes later, McDonald was fouled inside the box and Naismith confidently converted the resultant penalty kick to make it 4-0.
The fifth came from Smith’s low strike on the angle following substitute Jake Mulraney’s cutback.