Heart of Midlothian 2-2 Inverness CT AET, 2-4 pens
Hearts suffered penalty shootout agony as Inverness CT inflicted defeat in the semi-final of the Scottish League Cup.
Jamie Hamill struck twice to give Hearts the lead after falling behind to a Greg Tansey goal, and despite having the numerical advantage with two Caley red cards, Nick Ross grabbed a stoppage time equaliser to take the match all the way, where the Caley Jags emerged 4-2 victors from the spot.
It was 'as you were' for the Jambos as Gary Locke stuck with the same line up that won consecutive Premiership games, against Ross County and St Mirren, with Ryan Stevenson and new loan signing Paul McCallum occupying seats on the bench.
Hearts almost got off to a disastrous start when Danny Wilson gifted possession straight to Billy McKay deep inside the maroon half. The Caley frontman advanced into the box and cut back to Ross Draper, but he blasted over with his outstretched foot from eight yards, thanks to some heavy pressure from Dylan McGowan.
Despite coming under-fire in the opening ten minutes, the Jambos got their first chance of the match on 14 minutes. A lovely passing move down the right-hand side saw McGowan cross into the box, and though Dale Carrick met it, he couldn't steer his header on target.
The Gorgie boys then started to come into the game, after an admittedly slow start. Sam Nicholson looked dangerous charging forward, and after 33 minutes he stung the hands of Caley 'keeper Dean Brill with a powerful 25 yard drive.
The best chance of the first half fell to Caley's Billy McKay on 40 minutes, when he got the wrong side of Brad McKay in the Hearts box before powering an effort on target, but Jamie MacDonald pulled off a stunning left-hand block to deny Inverness the lead.
It took until the 53rd minute for the deadlock to be broken, and it was broken in style by Inverness. A loose ball fell to Greg Tansey nearly 30 yards from goal, and his first-time rocket shot sailed into the top corner of the net, leaving MacDonald with no chance.
Hearts almost equalised eight minutes later when Callum Paterson found himself one-on-one with Brill, but the Caley 'keeper pulled off a great one-handed save, before Paterson's headed rebound was cleared by David Raven.
The game exploded into life in the 64th minute with a red card. Gary Warren received a second yellow card and his marching orders after bringing down Carrick on the edge of the box. A well-worked free kick saw Jamie Hamill turn and shoot, and his deflected shot hit the back of the net.
If that strike wasn't a world-beater, then the next one certainly was. Hamill again stepped up to take a free kick, only minutes after his goal, and this time he curled the ball beautifully into the top corner from 20 yards to give Hearts the lead.
Caley immediately set about trying to get back on level terms and MacDonald pulled off another wonderful save, this time tipping Josh Meekings' bullet header over the crossbar.
With Meekings sent off for a lunge on Robinson, Hearts looked to be heading into the Scottish League Cup Final. That was until the fourth minute of injury time, when substitute Nick Ross popped up at the back post to hammer the ball beyond MacDonald following a goalmouth scramble.
Hearts nearly started extra time with a bang. Paterson crossed from the right and new loan signing Paul McCallum connected with a header, but Brill was on hand to palm the ball to safety.
Though the Jambos dominated the first period of extra rime, no breakthrough could be made. It was McCallum who again had another headed chance, this time in the second period, but he nodded over from Hamill's cross.
In the end, the match was decided with penalty kicks, just as matches in the previous rounds against Raith Rovers and Queen of the South had been.
MacDonald saved from Shinnie, and Brill returned the favour by keeping out McCallum's effort. Billy McKay and Carrick scored their respective penalties, as did Caley's Ross, however Hamill, the goal hero from earlier, had his shot saved. Tansey and Robinson then netted. The responsibility to take Caley through to the final fell on the shoulders of Ross Draper, and he duly dispatched from the spot.
A Heartbreaking end to the match and the Jambos will be wondering how they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Hearts: MacDonald; McGowan (McCallum, 63'), Brad McKay, Wilson, McHattie; Smith (Stevenson, 46'), Hamill, Robinson, Nicholson (Tapping, 84'); Carrick, Paterson. Subs: Ridgers, McGhee.
Inverness CT: Brill, Raven (Ross, 86'), Shinnie, Vincent (Tremarco, 91'), Warren, Meekings, Billy McKay, Draper, Doran (Devine, 68'), Watkins, Tansey. Subs: Esson, Tremarco, Williams.
Referee: John Beaton
Top man: Jamie Hamill