Alex Lowry’s 92nd minute winner ensured Hearts are heading back to Hampden following a dramatic 2-1 Viaplay Cup quarter-final victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Steven Naismith made three changes from the side that faced St Mirren at the weekend. Toby Sibbick, Alan Forrest and Jorge Grant all came into the side as Nathaniel Atkinson, Beni Baningime and Liam Boyce dropped out.
It was a cagey beginning and considering what was at stake, that perhaps wasn't a surprise. Lawrence Shankland had the first opportunity of the evening and after an intelligent knock down from Kenneth Vargas, the former Ayr United man couldn’t make the desired connection on the volley, and it didn’t trouble William Dennis in the Killie goal.
Zander Clark was called into action for the first time after ten minutes. Matty Kennedy cut in off the left flank and his curling effort was clawed away by the Hearts stopper.
There was flashes of lightning in Ayrshire prior to kick-off and the men in maroon almost broke the deadlock with a lightning quick counter attack three minutes later. Kenneth Vargas picked the ball up midway inside his own half and found Grant, he took a touch before slipping the ball through for Shankland but his goal bound shot was well blocked by Lewis Mayo.
Just as it looked like the first half was going to pass without any goals, Hearts hit the front in stylish fashion, six minutes before the break.
Kye Rowles nipped in to intercept a pass intended for Kyle Vassell, before playing a smart pass into the feet of Shankland, who laid it off first time for the onrushing Jorge Grant to curl a perfect effort into the bottom corner and send the Jambos down the tunnel with the half-time lead.
Half-time: Kilmarnock 0-1 Hearts
Hearts were forced into a change at the break as Peter Haring replaced Cammy Devlin in midfield.
Killie almost levelled the scores ten minutes into the second half when Kyle Maggenis’ effort flashed just wide of the far post.
Stephen Kingsley was inches away from doubling Hearts’ advantage just before the hour mark. After good work from Alan Forrest to win a corner, Killie didn’t clear their lines and the ball fell to Stephen Kingsley, who’s lofted effort had Dennis stranded, but the crossbar denied the defender.
Kilmarnock were starting to pile on the pressure and after Clark had denied Vassell, the home side levelled the scores after 67 minutes. Kennedy crossed in from the left and Brad Lyons was waiting at the back post to head home.
The game was becoming stretched as we entered the final 15 minutes and Grant almost restored Hearts’ advantage after being teed up by Shankland, but his curling effort was comfortable for Dennis.
Just as it looked like the game was heading to extra-time, Odel Offiah crossed the ball in for Shankland, who brought the ball down before laying it off to Liam Boyce and after his initial shot was blocked, he laid the ball off to substitute Alex Lowry who curled the ball perfectly into the bottom corner to spark scenes in the away end and send the Jambos back to Hampden.
Kilmarnock: Dennis, Wright, Mayo, Deas, Lyons, Vassell, Kennedy, Armstrong, Watson, Magennis, Findlay
Subs: O’Hara, Sanders, Davies, Ndaba, Polworth, Murray, McKenzie, Cameron, Dallas
Hearts: Clark, Kent, Kingsley, Grant (Boyce, 81), Nieuwenhof (Baningime, 90), Shankland ©, Devlin (Haring, 46), Rowles, Forrest (Offiah, 72), Sibbick, Vargas (Lowry, 90)
Subs: McGovern, Haring, Baningime, Boyce, Halliday, Denholm, Tait, Offiah, Lowry