A WRY smile appears on Brad McKay’s face as he reveals the secret behind his winning penalty at Stark’s Park on Tuesday night. The centre-back was not supposed to take Hearts’ final kick in the shootout. Gary Oliver was next in line to step up, but the 18-year-old had asked McKay to go first, perhaps due to nerves on his senior debut.
When Mark Ridgers saved from Raith Rovers’ Ross Callachan and it became clear the next penalty could decide the League Cup second-round tie, Oliver asked McKay to stand down. There was little chance of that happening. The 20-year-old strode forward to drive an emphatic shot high into the net and secure Hearts’ place in today’s third-round draw on a 5-4 shootout win.
Kevin McHattie and Jason Holt had failed to convert potential match-winning penalties moments beforehand, but McKay showed confidence beyond his years to become an unexpected hero.
“We were all standing in the huddle and I was looking along the line,” he recalled today. “We had chance after chance to win the shootout. Every time I looked across it was getting closer and closer to my turn.
“I said to Gary Oliver I’d go last. When it got to the latter stages, he said to me, ‘big man, you’re more experienced than me so you go before me’. So I said that was fair enough. Then Raith missed and he wanted all the glory and was giving it, ‘d’you want me to take it, d’you want me to take it?’
“I was like, ‘no, no, you step aside wee man’. I wasn’t too keen on taking a penalty so I was happy to step aside initially for the boys who wanted to take one and were confident. I saw a lot of attacking players so I thought I’d let them take one. Gary hasn’t got many games under his belt so I felt sorry for him and said I’d take his. Strikers are always trying to steal the glory anyway.”
Oliver had earlier come on as substitute for his competitive Hearts debut. He looked a useful forward with pace and an intent to go for goal whenever possible, but at the end of extra-time a 1-1 draw left the tie in the balance. “I was just glad to win the game and get through,” continued McKay. “We had two chances to put the tie to bed during the shootout and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. You’ve got to keep the faith and believe in that situation. When it came to my penalty, I had no hesitation in putting the ball right in the top bin.”
It was a night of mixed fortunes for a number of Hearts players as Danny Wilson, McHattie and Holt had to deal with the fact their penalties did not find the net. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, McKay was hailed for his winning penalty and substitute goalkeeper Mark Ridgers produced two excellent saves during the shootout.
“You always have a bit of banter with the boys who have missed but, at the same time, you’ve got their back,” said McKay. “When they come back you tell them it’s a team game and everyone is in it together. Big Ridgers did superbly to save a couple as well so we’re delighted with him. He has waited a long time to get a game and he did well when he came on. Like we’ve shown in a few games already this season, we have great resilience and spirit. The fans turned up again in great numbers on Tuesday and stayed right to the end, so we are due a big thanks to them as well.”