Hearts book Hampden trip with victory over Buddies
Hearts saw off a spirited St. Mirren side to reach the Scottish Cup Semi-Final in a 4-2 thriller under the lights in Gorgie. Aaron Fraser reports.
Wearing their traditional all-maroon cup kits, skipper Craig Gordon lead his Hearts teammates out under the lights at Tynecastle, where a raucous crowd greeted them and their opponents, St. Mirren. The travelling Buddies supporters threw confetti down from the stands, as a carnival atmosphere boomed around all four stands.
It was a big night for the Hearts Academy as three graduates took their place on the bench for the first time. Makenzie Kirk, son of former Hearts striker Andy, was joined by Luke Rathie and Macaulay Tait to fill the bench for a depleted squad still reeling from the Battle of Tannadice last Saturday.
With so many first team regulars sidelined for this quarter final, there were concerns around the ground that Hearts’ injury woes were set to worsen after just a few minutes, as Craig Halkett went down holding his head. The defender was taken off the park to receive treatment, before returning to the fray with a bandage wrapped around his head.
Eamonn Brophy would fashion the first chance of the match as he spun away from his man and drilled a low shot that was easily smothered by Gordon. Almost immediately afterwards, Hearts raced up the park and created a decent chance of their own. Barrie McKay came close to scoring his maiden goal in maroon as he fizzed an effort towards goal from the edge of the area that Jak Alnwick did well to parry away. Early on, this had the makings of a cracking cup tie.
Hearts took the lead 16 minutes in as Beni Baningime netted his first goal for the club. McKay floated in a teasing ball from the left which Ellis Simms tried to divert home. After Alnwick initially saved, Simms got another effort away before the Hearts number six smashed the loose ball in from close range, gleefully running towards Section N in celebration.
Hearts kept the pressure on as Ben Woodburn sent Simms racing towards goal on 21 minutes, but the striker could only drag his effort wide. The former would have a massive role to play in the second Hearts goal of the night which arrived on the half hour mark.
After receiving the ball from Boyce, the Welsh international played a delicious first time pass into the box for Peter Haring to side foot past a helpless Alnwick. It remains to be seen if the popular midfielder will stay in Gorgie beyond the end of this season but going by the volume at which Tynecastle roared his name, if he was to sign an extension, the news would be met with much approval.
St. Mirren pulled a goal back on 36 minutes through Brophy. The Scotland striker fired into the far corner after a wicked delivery from Richard Tait. Goals were flowing under the floodlights in a game with surprisingly few chances given the rate at which the netting was being rippled. Brophy almost bagged a quick-fire double as he glanced goalwards from a Jones delivery, but Gordon did well to spring across and make the save.
Hearts then thought they had scored a third when after a Boyce overhead kick was blocked, Halkett rattled the crossbar from a few yards out. Stephen Kingsley then sent a low effort bouncing just wide from 25 yards before Bobby Madden blew his whistle to signal the end of a whirlwind first half.
Two minutes into the second half, Brophy could only shoulder an effort on target that was easily held by Gordon before Nathaniel Atkinson tested Alnwick with a stinging drive from the edge of the box. Woodburn then dribbled forwards and let fly from distance. The Hearts number nine saw his shot deflect off Dunne and out for a corner. The game was on a knife edge at this point with both sets of fans continuing to roar their heroes on.
St. Mirren drew level on 63 minutes as Connor Ronan smashed home a stunning volley from 25 yards. The on-loan midfielder ran towards the away end with his arms outstretched as full-scale carnage erupted above him and his teammates.
Robbie Neilson subbed on Aaron McEneff after 66 minutes and the Irish midfielder would score with his second touch a matter of seconds later to restore his side’s lead. The roof was raised as Gorgie’s forgotten man diverted the ball in with his thigh before wheeling away with a smile as bright as the Tynecastle floodlights upon his face.
Hearts could have put the game to bed when Atkinson crossed for Haring but the onrushing Austrian could only volley high into the Gorgie Stand. McKay would be the next player to set up Haring but this time he sent a diving header inches wide.
With nine minutes to go, Kingsley almost scored a trademark free kick but Alnwick showed superhuman reflexes to claw the ball round the post and out for a corner.
Simms would seal the men in maroon a ticket to Hampden on 85 minutes. After a lovely McEneff cross from the right hand side, the on-loan Everton man slotted home from close range to net his fourth of the season and Hearts’ fourth of the night.
The full time whistle blew in Gorgie as the Jam Tarts made it four wins from four against the Saints this season and became the first team to reach the semi finals of this season’s Scottish Cup.