Hearts were forced into extra time at Station Park but came out 2-1 victors over Forfar Athletic in the Scottish League Cup.
The Jambos looked to be home and dry after Kevin McHattie’s second-half opener, but the hosts got back on level terms with a late Michael Dunlop header. Right on the 105th minute, Gavin Reilly popped up on the line to clinch the match and send Hearts into the third round.
Robbie Neilson elected to shake things up with seven changes from the side that comfortably disposed of Partick Thistle only three days ago. In came Jack Hamilton, Liam Smith, Jordan McGhee, Kevin McHattie, Sean McKirdy, Billy King and Gary Oliver as the Jambos looked to make full use of their squad, with three games in the space of seven days.
It was the Jambos who had the first half chance of the match and it came after six minutes. King showed powerful running down the right to send over a ball, which was headed clear into the path of McKirdy at the edge of the box, but his half-volley flew just over the bar.
King was proving dangerous and on 13 minutes had an effort of his own. He burst forward into the Forfar half and tried his luck from 25 yards, before forcing Rab Douglas into a save at his near post.
A brace of balls across the face of the Forfar goal, courtesy of Oliver and Reilly, saw no takers at the back post as Hearts began to stamp their authority on the match. Sam Nicholson then went close after meeting McHattie’s cross, but he couldn’t steer his header on target.
Douglas came to the hosts’ rescue after 27 minutes following a neat one-to between Oliver and Reilly, with the former pulling off a snapshot from 18-yards, only to see the veteran Forfar ‘keeper tip the ball over the bar.
For all of Hearts’ possession and chances, they couldn’t break down a stubborn and numbers-heavy home defence.
The second-half continued in much the same vein. When Nicholson was fouled on the edge of the box, McGhee stepped up and curled his effort round the wall but Douglas got down to make the save.
The Jambos had the best chance of the game in the 52nd minute. Reilly was threaded through by Nicholson and found himself bearing down on goal, however Douglas stood firm to make a fine block from the Hearts striker.
With still no score at the hour mark, Juanma was introduced for Oliver as Robbie Neilson’s lads went in search of a winning goal.
A terrific twist and turn from Nicholson at the edge of the box saw the winger curl the ball goalward, but with too much lift on it Douglas watched the ball sail over the bar.
Moments later Hearts were awarded a penalty. Reilly broke free down the left and crossed, but the sliding Kevin Nicoll blocked with his hand. Reilly stepped up to take the spot kick but Douglas flung himself to his right to make a brilliant stop and to add insult to injury, blocked the follow-up from Juanma.
Heads didn’t drop and with 16 minutes remaining, the Gorgie boys took the lead. Substitute Callum Paterson powered through the middle of the park and found Nicholson, whose ball into the box dropped in front of the advancing McHattie, and from the edge of the six yard box he blasted high into the roof of the net.
It was nearly 2-0 a few minutes later. Paterson’s cross-field pass sent Liam Smith clear down the right, and his whipped ball in to the back post was nodded down by Juanma, but Douglas pulled off a stunning save with his legs to keep the score at 1-0.
Hearts were in mouths when Forfar passed up a golden opportunity to get back on level terms. Danny Denholm skipped away from his man to send over a deep cross to the back door and although Craig Smith got there, he could only blast over the bar.
Lessons weren’t learned and disaster struck with six minutes to go. A high cross to the back post saw Dunlop connect and his header loped over Hamilton and two white shirts to drop into the back of the net.
Again, the Hearts defence was carved open when Denholm was slipped through, this time in the 88th minute, but he ballooned clean over the bar from 18-yards.
With seconds on the clock, Denholm received a second yellow and his marching orders for scything down Paterson has he galloped forward.
The drama wasn’t over in normal time as Douglas pulled off another wonder save, this time from a spectacular McHattie thunderbolt, which ensured this second-round tie would go to extra time.
Hearts tried to make the numerical advantage count but still found it difficult to break through the home defence. Douglas made another fine save from McGhee’s snapshot, while Nicholson lashed over the crossbar from an angle after beating his man in the box.
Bang on half-time, the Jambos regained the lead. Nicholson’s corner found Paterson who drilled goalward through the bodies on the line and into the back of the net, with Reilly getting the final touch before it crossed the line.
Forfar had a decent chance in the second period of extra time when Gavin Malin robbed Morgaro Gomis and pushed into the box, but he could only fire over under pressure from Liam Smith.
Right at the death Iain Campbell received a straight red card for a brutal challenge on Callumn Morrison.
A huge sigh of relief at full time as the Jambos secure their place in Thursday’s third-round draw, though credit to Forfar for taking the game to the wire.
Forfar Athletic: Douglas, Dunlop, Campbell, Nicoll, Travis, Young (Malin, 46'), Hay, Hodge, Templeman, Fotheringham, Denholm. Subs: Allan, Yates, Clark, Smith, Neave, J. King.
Hearts: Hamilton, L. Smith, McGhee, Rossi, McHattie, Gomis, McKirdy, King, Nicholson, Oliver, Reilly. Subs: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Sow, Oshaniwa, Morrison, Juanma.
Referee: Greg Aitken
Top man: Sam Nicholson