Hearts beat Aberdeen on penalties to progress to the semifinals of the Betfred Cup. The two sides finished at 2-2 after 90 minutes and extra-time, with the Jambos winning 3-0 in the shoot-out.
Story of the match
Hearts came flying out of the traps, and nearly took the lead in the first minute when Uche Ikpeazu struck the underside of Joe Lewis’ crossbar, then put the rebound wide. It was the Dons, however, who took the lead when Christope Berra fouled Ryan Hedges in the box, and Sam Cosgrove converted from the spot.
Cosgrove on the mark again
Hearts continued to press, and deservedly equalised when Michael Devlin slipped in the box and left Steven MacLean all alone to slot past Lewis. Despite the setback, Aberdeen rallied to retake the lead. James Wilson was to later go off injured, but made the most of a rare start by winning his side a second penalty, which was inevitably finished by Cosgrove.
The second half saw the home side continuing to press, but creating little clear cut. Aberdeen were hit with yet another injury, with Dean Campbell forced off, but still came close with a Greg Leigh effort. Aberdeen’s failure to kill off the game cost them in injury time, when Craig Halkett headed home Jake Mulraney’s cross to send the tie into extra-time.
The best chance of extra time came for the visitors, when Greg Leigh crossed for Niall McGinn, only for the Northern Ireland international to see his header come back off the post. With little further created the evening was settled on penalties.
Clear cut from the spot
In contrast to the game, the shoot-out proved highly and instantly decisive. Both Cosgrove and McGinn blazed over the bar for Aberdeen, while Bruce Anderson’s effort was saved. With the home side as clinical with their three penalties as the visitors were wasteful, it was Hearts who progressed to face Rangers in the semis.
While Derek McInnes will be frustrated, he will rightly point to a depleted side which was weakened yet further during the game. Craig Levein, meanwhile, has undoubtedly enjoyed his best four days of the season, but will look to returning players to boost performances.
Takeaways from the match
Can returning players save Levein?
Despite being in a far rosier position than he was four days ago, Craig Levin is far from out of the woods.
An admittedly crucial victory against a woefully out of form Hibernian side was ground out only with the aid of a deflected winning goal, and his team needed injury time to equalise in a home tie against a hugely weakened and generally misfiring Aberdeen.
The return of both Steven Naismith and Peter Haring cannot come soon enough. With Haring controlling the midfield, and Naismith’s very presence a massive influence on the team, Hearts are an entirely different proposition.
With Ben Garuccio, John Souttar and Jamie Walker all to come back as well, Levein will rightly point to the limited options at his disposal so far this term.
However, will he be given long enough? This performance could be termed as credible and battling, but was certainly far from convincing. Negative results in the next couple of weeks may mean he isn’t given the time to bring back key faces.
From bad to worse in the Pittodrie treatment room
If there was a silver lining to Aberdeen’s midfield injury crisis, it was surely that 18-year-old Dean Campbell would be given a proper run in the side.
No such luck, however, as Campbell was one of two yet further casualties tonight.
Although the extent of Campbell and James Wilson’s injuries are not yet known, Aberdeen will surely be unable to believe their bad luck.
Forced into a 5-4-1 formation in the closing stages, Aberdeen are now without a recognisable midfield. While Jon Gallagher and Ryan Hedges can play a role, without Craig Bryson and Funso Ojo there is no obvious playmaker and no natural link between the defence and midfield.
Derek McInnes must be even more grateful tonight that 20-year-old Lewis Ferguson plays like a man well beyond his years.