With a Hampden victory still fresh in the mind, Hearts were eager to get back to the National Stadium at the first time of asking…
Having reached the heights of a 5-1 Scottish Cup Final win over Hibs five months previously, it was always going to be a tough task to top that euphoria.
Nevertheless, despite not firing in all cylinders in the league, cup football continued to bear fruit for the Jambos.
John McGlynn’s side had earlier disposed of Livingston in the third round of the League Cup – winning 3-1 at Tynecastle – to set up a quarter-final showdown with Dundee United at Tannadice on October 31st, 2012.
The two teams were separated by only one point in the league table. Hearts sat 7th with 13 points, while United occupied 10th with 12 points.
There had been a Tannadice meeting between them only a month ago with Hearts emerging with a 3-0 win, thanks to Callum Paterson’s brace and Arvydas Novikovas’ strike sandwiched in between.
United had the momentum heading into this midweek clash having beaten St Mirren 1-0 away from home the weekend before, while Hearts were held to a 2-2 draw by Ross County in Gorgie.
With four wins apiece all season, this game really was too close to call.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, manager John McGlynn hoped that the previous win over United would stand them in good stead for this meeting.
“It helps us in the fact that we hadn’t won there for a long time, so it helps us from that point of view, that we managed to get that monkey off our back,” he said. “It might’ve been a heavier burden to carry going up there if we hadn’t have won for such a long time.
“Hopefully that gives us confidence, gives us belief that we can do it – it’s only a month ago that we did it. At the same time I’m sure the memory isn’t that long ago for Dundee United to take some motivation from it as well.
“It can work both ways but I’m only really focusing on us and hoping that it does give us more confidence and belief that we’ve done it before so we can do it again.”
Midfielder Mehdi Taouil also spoke to the media and revealed he wanted a repeat of that tremendous day out at Hampden.
“It’s been a long time since Hearts won it and it would be fantastic to win it this season,” he said. “I had the experience last year of winning a trophy here at Hearts and that is so great.
“It would be fantastic to win another trophy again this year. We’re going to do everything tomorrow.
“We know it’s going to be a hard game but we’re going to do everything we want to repeat going to Hampden.”
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon, Daly, Armstrong, Gunning, Flood, Rankin, Russell, Ryan, Gardyne. Subs: Banks, McLean, Skacel, Mackay-Steven, Millar.
Hearts: MacDonald, R. McGowan, Grainger, Webster, Barr, Zaliukas, Stevenson, Paterson, Sutton, Taouil, Novikovas. Subs: Enckelman, Robinson, D. McGowan, Driver, Smith.
McGlynn made one change to the side as Andy Driver dropped out in order to accommodate a two man Hearts attack as John Sutton returned to the starting line-up to partner Callum Paterson up front.
Arvydas Novikovas took less than a minute to fire a volley wide of Cierznak's post, clearly keen to continue his habit of grabbing wonder goals at Tannadice.
Hearts looked lively in the opening stages as the new formation appeared to invigorate their attacking play. The link-up between midfield and attack was evident when the Jambos went ahead on 20 minutes as Novikovas picked up a flick-on before feeding Ryan Stevenson left of the box.
The midfielder dispatched a teasing ball across the goalmouth, enabling Paterson to escape his marker on the near post to tap in his third goal of the season.
Hearts continued to push forward with Danny Grainger cutting in from the left of the box before forcing a fine save from the keeper at his near post, whilst Mehdi Taouil missed the upright by inches minutes later with a long distance drive after he picked up a miscued pass across the United backline.
Ten minutes before the interval, however, the Arabs levelled with their first notable attack of the game as Johnny Russell latched on to a deflected shot to stab the ball past Jamie Macdonald from seven yards out.
The home side looked far more composed after the interval as both Russell and Stuart Armstrong put Macdonald to the test with efforts from the edge of the box.
The Gorgie side then rattled the woodwork on the hour mark as Grainger's cross from the left was nodded into the path of Paterson by Sutton; the former unleashing an acrobatic volley which bounced off the left post and into the arms of a relieved Cierzniak.
Hearts were then dealt a hammer blow with less than fifteen minutes to go as a late tackle on Russell by Darren Barr saw the Gorgie side reduced to ten men, the former Falkirk man picking up his second yellow card of the evening.
Despite the numerical advantage, United were unable to breach the resolute Maroon backline and the tie duly went to extra time.
The Arabs introduced Rudi Skacel to the fray minutes into the first half, but it was the visitors who came within a whisker of taking the lead when Novikovas hit a well struck shot from the edge of the box which came agonisingly close to finding Cierzniak's bottom right corner.
As the game entered the second period of extra time, Hearts went close when Paterson got on the end of a Grainger free kick on the back post but his header lacked the necessary power to beat the keeper.
With five minutes remaining, Skacel nearly sent his old side out the cup when he connected with his famous left peg on eight yards. To the relief of Macdonald, however, his side footed effort somehow missed the target.
Shortly after, former Hibee John Rankin's 25 yards drive clipped Macdonald's left post as the home side put the Jambos under considerable pressure in the dying minutes.
McGlynn's men held on however, sending the tie to penalties. Grainger and Sutton both missed the first two spot kicks, but a miss from Gary Mackay-Steven and a Macdonald save to deny Rankin meant the scores were brought level.
Zaliukas eventually put his side 5-4 up, before Sean Dillon sent the Maroon faithful wild as he swept his kick wide of goal.
Despite booking a semi-final place the Jambos wouldn’t be returning to Hampden, for time being at least. Paired with Inverness CT in the final four, the match was staged at Easter Road.
Another penalty success after drawing 1-1 saw the men in maroon clinch their second cup final appearance in a row, though it would be Gary Locke leading the team out after John McGlynn was dismissed at the end of February.
It would be Hampden heartache. Despite taking the lead in the final through Ryna Stevenson, opponents St Mirren galvanised and ran into a 3-1 lead before Stevenson pulled one back but the equaliser proved a stretch too far.
What they said
John McGlynn: It's a lottery in penalties. When we missed our first two I thought we were done for, but the courage the players showed - especially after missing our first two kicks - was magnificent.
Jamie MacDonald: Part of it's guessing where the ball will go, but educated guessing. You try to read how a player approaches the ball, and I think I got close to every penalty, even the ones they scored.
Gary Ralston (Daily Record): Dundee United suffered a spot-kick fright night as 10-man Hearts won a sudden death shoot-out to book their place in the semi-final.
The game was far from a classic but Hearts showed true grit to hold on a man down after Callum Paterson’s early strike – his third against United this season – was cancelled out before the break by Johnny Russell’s seventh strike of the season.
Barry Anderson (Edinburgh Evening News): Becoming a good cup team requires character, fight and a smattering of luck. Hearts utilised all those traits in last season’s Scottish Cup and eventually lifted the trophy at Hampden after the biggest ever Edinburgh derby in the final.
They are now in the latter stages of Scotland’s other cup tournament, having won every domestic cup tie this year. The annals of Tynecastle will, in years to come, denote 2012 as the year Hearts were cup specialists.
Last night on Tayside, they were reduced to ten men, endured extra-time and missed their first two penalties of a shootout to decide their Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final against Dundee United. It could so easily have been a horror Hallowe’en. Yet still they prevailed to secure a place in next Thursday’s draw for the semi-finals, which could provide a return to Hampden Park with memories of that 5-1 trouncing of Hibs still so fresh in the mind.
Watch the full build up, highlights and reaction on HeartsTV by clicking here.