Rory McAllister’s penalty two minutes from time saw League 2 Peterhead inflict a humiliating defeat on Premiership Hearts and the top flight club can have no complaints about a setback that leaves them with work to do to progress from the group stage.
Ian Cathro’s side struggled to created worthwhile chances against Jim McInally’s team and must do better against Group B leaders Dunfermline on Saturday if they are to avoid further embarrassment.
After the disappointments of last season it’s more important than ever that Hearts make a positive start to the new one and the fates have conspired to make that far from simple for Cathro and his players.
Building work at Tynecastle leaves them facing trips to Celtic, Kilmarnock, Rangers and Motherwell in the first four weeks of the league campaign before a visit from Aberdeen at the start of September.
It’s a daunting schedule which makes it all the more important they use these Betfred Cup ties to not only make sure they progress in the tournament but are ready for the tougher challenges that lie ahead next month.
The first task may well be completed this weekend but they will need to play a lot better against the Championship side than they did here in a frankly feckless performance.
Krystian Nowak replaced John Souttar as the only change to the team that defeated League 1 East Fife last weekend but they looked a lot less convincing against the team relegated from that division last season and who had been on the receiving end of a 5-1 defeat at East End Park on Saturday.
McInally went with two up against their Premiership opponents and the drive and aggression of McAllister and Russell McLean forced Cathro to revert to three central defenders after starting with a back four.
Not before the Blue Toon had opened the scoring though, something they threatened as early as the third minute when summer signing Willie Gibson curled a 20 yard free-kick just wide of Jack Hamilton’s goal.
Two minutes later Hamilton was bailed out by Jordan McGhee’s desperate clearance after McAllister angled Gibson’s cute through ball beyond the goalkeeper but the warning went unheeded.
Jason Brown, pictured, found himself in splendid isolation when Gibson delivered the resulting corner in the box and sent a powerful header into the net leaving Hearts with a real test of character to stage a recovery.
To be fair there were a few flashes of what their manager was looking for, particularly when Michael Smith got forward as the right-back signed from Peterborough United overlapped with pace and precision.
That much was evident when a searching McGhee pass sent him scurrying away to provide a telling cross that Jamie Walker touched into the path of Isma Goncalves, who flashed a 14 yard shot inches wide in 16 minutes
Within 60 seconds they were level as Smith hit the byeline, Greg Fleming flapped at the resulting cross and Lafferty was in the right place to continue his run of scoring in every game so far this season.
Walker went on to see his shot saved by Fleming while Goncalves bent an effort just wide before the break but Peterhead looked as likely to score as the visitors in that opening period with McAllister forcing Hamilton into a save to keep out his 40 yard free-kick.
The second half was a poor spectacle but there were incidents with Lafferty requiring stitches to fix a head wound while Jamie Brandon was denied a run out because of a number mix-up. The youngster was listed as No 31 on the team sheet but had the No 30 jersey on his jersey and shorts so he wasn’t allowed on the park, leading to an embarrassing situation where Arnauld Djoum took over instead.
Walker had a header cleared off the line by Jamie Stevenson but that was as close as Hearts came and the shock was confirmed when substitute Jordan Brown was bundled over in the box, allowing McAllister to convert the penalty.