Ten-Man Hearts scraped through to the League Cup final 5-4 on penalties after a nervy 1-1 draw against Terry Butcher’s Inverness at Easter Road.
After a goalless first half, Andrew Shinnie fired the Highlanders ahead in the 49th minute before Jambos debutant, Michael Ngoo, levelled the tie up with a close-range volley.
However, the Gorgie side’s task became that much harder when midfielder Scott Robinson was shown a straight red card for a lunge on Owain Tudor Jones with just 13 minutes remaining of regulation time.
Despite having to play the remaining 43 minutes of the tie without the youngster, it was Hearts who held their nerve in the penalty shoot-out as Phillip Roberts, who needed to score, blasted his effort high into the Famous Five Stand much to the dismay of the Caley Thistle fans housed behind the goal.
It was Inverness, though, who came out the blocks first in what was a cold afternoon in the Capital and Jamie MacDonald had to be aware to clear from the lurking Billy McKay.
However, Hearts had reason to feel aggrieved when Jamie Walker went down in the penalty area under the challenge of Graeme Shinnie but referee Euan Norris waved play on.
But it was McKay who passed up a gilt-edged chance when he latched onto Andrew Shinnie’s clever pass that completely exposed the Hearts defence and despite looking odds on to break the deadlock, the striker’s tame effort was easily gathered by the Jambos No.1
Inverness continued in pursuit of the game’s opening goal and Richie Foran came within inches of doing just that when he broke free from his marker to meet David Raven’s cross, but he couldn’t get enough on his header to trouble MacDonald.
Target-man Ngoo then almost made an immediate impact when he won his aerial tussle to meet Danny Wilson’s inviting cross but was left with his head in his hands when the ball beat Antonio Reguero in the Inverness goal only to rebound back off the left-hand post.
After a terrific first-half affair, the match swung into life just three minutes after the interval when Andrew Shinnie galloped through an exposed Hearts defence and drove his effort across MacDonald and into the far corner to give Caley Thistle the lead.
But the Highlanders’ lead only lasted 16 minutes as a long free-kick into the penalty area was nodded back across goal by Wilson and there was Ngoo to open his Hearts account with a crisp volley from just a couple of yards out.
Just as the Gorgie side appeared to have the momentum moving into the final quarter, Robinson was rightly dismissed for a dangerous tackle which left John McGlynn’s players looking vulnerable in the closing stages.
However, neither side could conjure up a winner during the additional 30 minutes and the tie went to penalties.
Marius Zaliukas, Ngoo, Andy Webster, Arvydas Novikovas and Mehdi Taouil had all converted their respective spot kicks when Roberts stepped forward needing to score to keep Caley Thistle’s cup hopes alive.
However, the nerves appeared to get the better of the player and he blasted high over the bar to spark wild celebrations for those in maroon and white.
Hearts: MacDonald, Wilson, Webster, Zaliukas, Mullen, Walker, Driver, Holt, Robinson, Tapping, Ngoo.