Hearts produced a magnificent comeback to beat Kilmarnock 3-2 at Rugby Park on Wednesday night.
A Josh Magennis brace, either side of an Alim Ozturk strike, looked to have won it for Killie but two goals in the last minute from Juanma and Sam Nicholson ensured the Jambos would be in the hat for the quarter-final draw of the Scottish League Cup.
Robbie Neilson made four changes to his side following last weekend’s defeat to Aberdeen. In came Morgaro Gomis, Billy King, Sam Nicholson and Danny Swanson while new signing Arnaud Djoum made the bench following the arrival of his international clearance.
Hearts attacked from the off with Swanson feeding Sow inside the first minute. The big Swede drove into the box and fired low across the face of goal away from Mark Ridgers and, unfortunately, the target.
The Jambos continued to look a threat going forward. A series of stepovers from King saw him create space at the edge of the box, but he dragged his shot well wide of Ridgers’ left-hand post.
Despite the positive start it was the hosts who grabbed the opener after 13 minutes. Greg Kiltie did fantastically well to send over a first-time ball from the byeline after getting the wrong side of Igor Rossi and Magennis outjumped Alim Ozturk to power home a header from six yards.
Nicholson made Ridgers work just before the half hour mark. Sow played a delightful through ball for the winger to run on to, and despite being forced slightly wide he drove low and on target but Ridgers got down to make the save.
A sublime run and cut inside from King saw him break free inside the box, and although his cutback wasn’t the best, Nicholson latched onto it to fire over the bar by a matter of inches, courtesy of a Kilmarnock deflection.
Hearts’ best chance of the half came on 37 minutes following a quick counter-attack from Swanson. He ran the length of the pitch as a gap appeared in front of him before passing wide left to the onrushing Gomis at the edge of the box, however his first-time effort was tame and straight at Ridgers.
Jamie Walker was an early second-half substitution for King, who passed a late fitness test to start the game, as Robbie lads went in search of an equaliser.
The men in maroon passed up a glorious chance to get back on level terms just before the hour mark. Prince Buaben burst forward and slipped in Sow, who blasted clean over the bar from six yards, though he was at an angle.
A scrappy spell followed but it was broken with a magical half-chance for Hearts. Nicholson sprinted down the left and sent over an inviting cross, which Sow somehow managed to get to and spectacularly backheel the ball goalwards, only for Ridgers to pounce to his right and smother the danger.
With 17 minutes remaining Hearts got back on level terms. Nicholson’s corner was nodded down and broke to Ozturk on the edge of the box, and he controlled it before curling the ball low and watching it creep past Ridgers and into the bottom corner of the net.
Six minutes later Kilmarnock restored their lead. A neat pass into the edge of the box found Magennis, who showed great strength to hold off his man and shoot low away from Alexander and into the bottom corner.
When all looked lost, substitute Juanma popped up to bag the equaliser. Walker sent over a bullet cross and the Spaniard guided a wonderful header into the bottom right corner of the net from near enough the penalty spot.
Incredibly, with only 40 seconds left, Hearts got a third. Juanma’s chipped ball into the box saw Nicholson run onto it and stab the ball home from an acute angle.
A truly remarkable game of football and the Jambos find themselves in the quarter-finals of the Scottish League Cup.
Kilmarnock: Ridgers, Hamill, Findlay (Smith, 25'), Higginbotham, O'Hara, Obadeyi (Robinson, 71'), Ashcroft, Slater, Kiltie (Boyd, 84'), Balatoni, Megennis. Subs: MacDonald, Splaine, McLean, Wilson.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Augustyn, Ozturk, Gomis, Buaben, Sow, Nicholson, King (Walker, 51'), Rossi, Swanson (Juanma, 56'). Subs: Hamilton, Pallardo, Djoum, Reilly, McGhee.
Referee: Craig Thomson
Top man: Sam Nicholson