Jamie MacDonald admitted today that the Hearts players were devastated to have passed up the chance of a place in the Scottish League Cup final.
But it wasn’t only personal ambition that left he and his team-mates hurting, because they knew that the defeat to Inverness meant Hearts missing out on a vital cash windfall, too. A place in the final against Aberdeen next month would also have given the Tynecastle coffers a much-needed boost, considering the club’s current financial plight.
Despite leading with just a few seconds of normal time remaining at Easter Road yesterday, though, Nick Ross hit a dramatic, late leveller to take the match to penalties and the Highlanders were victorious in the shoot-out.
It was a huge blow for Hearts, who had looked certain of their place in the showpiece final after Caley had been reduced to nine men following the sendings off of both Gary Warren and Josh Meekings.
“The situation that the club is in and the season we have had,” admitted MacDonald, “it would have been a great lift for the fans, the players and everyone involved with the club.
“It would have been another good day out for everyone and we are all disappointed.
“It is something that we will have to learn from.
“It is always bad to lose a shoot-out but even harder when you concede a 94th minute equaliser to a team with nine me.
“Everyone was devastated in the dressing room because it was a great chance for us to get to a cup final.
“And, to be honest, Inverness probably had a few more chances with nine men on the park than they did with 11.
“At one point they were hitting us on the break and that is obviously something that we will need to look at.”
A sensational strike from Greg Tansey from well outside the box had given Caley a deserved lead before Jamie Hamill’s double turned the game on its head.
But there was a real sense of injustice in the Hearts camp as the Tynecastle players – and many in the stands – felt that the ball had been handled in the build-up to Tansey’s opener.
“Yes, at their first goal it was clear that it has hit the boy’s hand and it had landed at his feet, then he has managed to lay it back and the boy has hit a great strike,” said MacDonald.
“Obviously the ref said that it was ball to hand but I think that, at the end of the day, it has lead to a goal and it is handball for me.
“The same referee gave a penalty against us earlier in the season for hitting someone in the face.”
The Hearts keeper got a touch on Ross’s close-range stoppage-time effort but just couldn’t keep it out of the net. And he felt that the Jambos should have had enough in their locker to make sure that the game didn’t go to spot kicks.
“I had to double back on myself,” MacDonald said of Ross’s late leveller, “the way that the ball deflected.
“I just threw myself at it. I don’t know where it hit me, I just threw myself at it. Unfortunately, when I turned round I saw it slowly spinning into the net.
“It was just one of those agonising moments, but we should have had the game won before penalties.”
Hamill had been awarded the sponsors’ man of the match champagne but trudged off the pitch at the end a dejected figure after he was one of the Hearts players to see his penalty kick in the shoot-out saved by Dean Brill.
MacDonald conceded that the former Kilmarnock man had been absolutely gutted in the dressing room after the match – but insisted that every single Hearts player felt the exact same pain.
The Hearts keeper continued: “I think everyone was devastated.
“We were 30 seconds away from a cup final so to lose it the way that we did, especially against nine men, is disappointing.
“Getting to the final would have been a huge boost. That is what you want to do as a football player.”