Wee Jambos heading for Hampden after conquering Caley
Mackenzie Kirk was the hero as Hearts U18s booked themselves a place in the Youth Cup Final at the expense of their Inverness counterparts. Aaron Fraser reports.
A crowd of 511 turned up at Tynecastle Park on a bitterly cold Thursday night to take in the Youth Cup Semi Final. Hearts and Inverness were both keen to secure themselves a ticket to Hampden in what would turn out to be a very entertaining fixture under the floodlights in Gorgie.
The first chance of the game arrived in the opening minutes when Adam Forrester coughed up possession and gave the ball to Ben Barron. The Inverness number 10 twisted and turned before laying the ball off to his onrushing teammate, who could only shank his effort over the bar.
Hearts started the game positively, winning four corners in the first five minutes of the match. The shouts of Steven Naismith could be heard echoing around Tynecastle, encouraging his team to stay high and pass the ball with pace. His young Hearts side were building well from the back despite the terrible conditions. Snow swirled around the Gorgie skies as the two sides battled to break the deadlock.
Rocco Friel would see his long range effort deflected out for a corner before Callum Flatman headed over from a Callum Sandilands’ delivery. Inverness then started to grow into the game after a shell-shocked start, making dangerous forays into the Hearts half.
Suddenly though, Hearts opened the scoring in style. Finlay Pollock won possession in midfield before spraying the ball out wide to Sandilands, who whipped in a pinpoint cross for Murray Thomas to sweep home the first goal of the night. The 17-year-old sprinted away in celebration followed by his teammates, before a group knee-slide at the corner flag, which will have certainly attracted the fury of the Hearts groundsman.
Alastair Riddle threatened to equalise for Inverness when his deflected effort seemed to be soaring into the net. Backpedalling Hearts keeper Liam McFarlane did well to paw the ball away to safety.
A warning sign for the young Jambos backline, but it didn’t sure things up enough to prevent Inverness drawing level on 36 minutes through Ethan Cairns. Hearts failed to clear their lines after a Calum Mackay cross, and the Caley number 9 plucked the loose ball out of the air before dribbling into the box and rifling an unstoppable effort into the top right corner.
Inverness would create two chances in the opening stages of the second half. Cairns’ shot from distance and saw his effort spilled by McFarlane who managed to gather the ball before it ended up in the net. Soon afterwards Barron was sent clean through on goal but could only fire a shot wide.
Hearts hit back with an opportunity of their own. A ball in from the right hand side found Mackenzie Kirk who squandered the chance to score before it fell to Bobby McLuckie who skied his effort into the Gorgie Stand.
Kirk would make amends by restoring the lead on 78 minutes. Pollock was once again the architect, breaking into the box before crossing for the Hearts number 10. This time the substitute made no mistake and finished calmly into the bottom left corner. Pollock would then pick up a booking for winding up an Inverness defender during the celebrations.
Hearts were trying to put the game to bed late on and went in search of another goal. Kirk would flash wide moments later from another Pollock delivery. before Thomas couldn’t quite hit the target after a cross from the game’s ultimate match winner.
Full time arrived in Gorgie and the Wee Jambos had made it to the Youth Cup Final. Steven Naismith’s side will take on either Hibs or Rangers at Hampden Park for the chance to lift silverware at the National Stadium.
Hearts manager Naismith commented on his team’s efforts: “It’s easy to say job done but the performance wasn’t as good as we’d have liked. It’s brilliant to get to the final, but on these occasions you can’t have that uptightness and nervousness that’s going to stop you from playing your game”
“Tonight we felt we were a wee bit safe, but overall it’s brilliant to get there, great occasion and it shows what it means to the boys. They dug in at times when the game went against us tonight. We dug in, got through it and as the game went on we made a few tactical changes that suited us, played better football and got a good second goal.”