A Betfred Cup shock in Aberdeenshire leaves Hearts needing to beat Dunfermline to be sure of passage to the tournament’s knockout phase. Rory McAllister’s 89th-minute penalty gave League Two Peterhead a memorable win over the Edinburgh club in Group B as Balmoor Stadium celebrated a famous success.
With the game poised evenly at 1-1 following first-half goals by Jason Brown and Kyle Lafferty - the striker’s fourth in three Hearts appearances - this tie looked to be heading for penalties. However, Peterhead made one final push in the dying minutes and were rewarded with three points to take them level with Hearts in the section.
Substitute Arnaud Djoum was judged to have fouled fellow Peterhead replacement Jordon Brown inside the box, and McAllister confidently converted the winner from the spot. Peterhead lost 5-1 at Dunfermline on Saturday, however their recovery certainly caught Hearts by surprise on the night.
The Tynecastle side now realistically need to win on Saturday against Dunfermline or risk failing to reach the knockout stage.
Balmoor was packed to capacity for the first competitive meeting between these two clubs. The rural north east of Scotland isn’t known as a footballing hotbed but there was no lack of appetite amongst locals to see a Ladbrokes Premiership side at close quarters.
Standing fans leaned on advertising boards behind both goals, banging them fervently and creating a fair atmosphere given the size of the venue. Their League Two team were out to cause a major cup upset by winning to draw level with Hearts on six points in Betfred Cup Group B. They got off to an ideal start.
Midfielder Willie Gibson’s curling free-kick flew narrowly wide of the Hearts goal on three minutes, then striker McAllister’s chipped effort over goalkeeper Jack Hamilton was hacked off the goal line by Jordan McGhee. It was clear evidence of an aggressive home start, which was rewarded with the opening goal on six minutes.
After McGhee’s clearance, the resultant corner was pinged to the near post by Gibson and headed into the net on the run by full-back Brown. Hamilton did well to get a hand to the ball at point-blank range but couldn’t prevent the goal as those in blue set off to celebrate.
Hearts had left John Souttar, Aaron Hughes and Ashley Smith-Brown behind in Edinburgh and began the match in 4-4-2 formation. They reverted to a back three shortly after falling behind and looked more at ease, with Krystian Nowak dropping from midfield to play in between McGhee and captain Christophe Berra. Quickly, they put together a move which produced the equaliser.
Right-back Michael Smith set off on run and his low cross was pushed out by the Peterhead keeper Greg Fleming. Lafferty instinctively threw out his left foot and flicked the ball into the open net almost from behind himself. It was a slightly unorthodox finish but the Northern Irishman wasn’t likely to complain at scoring for the third consecutive game.
Although drawing level settled the visitors, Peterhead continued to pose problems. They only train once a week but manager Jim McInally had them well drilled to make best use of creative outlets like McAllister and Gibson. They looked much stronger than your average League Two side.
McAllister’s thunderous 25-yard free-kick on 27 minutes was parried by Hamilton and cleared by Krystian Nowak. Jamie Walker forced a similar reaction save from Fleming from slightly further out at the opposite end, plus there were dipping efforts from Walker and Esmael Goncalves near half-time.
A cut head forced Lafferty off for almost eight minutes at the start of the second half. The travelling support were grateful to see him reappear after treatment in the dressing room. They would have been concerned by how often their team were ceding possession of the ball, though. That made it difficult to create chances.
Confusion reigned midway through the second period as Hearts tried to introduce teenager Jamie Brandon for Rafal Grzelak. He was listed as No.31 on the teamsheet but was wearing No.30. When that flashed up on the fourth official’s electronic board, Brandon seemed to be told he couldn’t go on and had to retake a seat on the bench. Eventually, Djoum came on to replace Prince Buaben.
Djoum was making his first appearance of the season having been given an extended break. He played for Cameroon in the Confederations Cup last month and Hearts were keen to get him back in action. Tension increased around Balmoor as the game entered its final 15 minutes locked at 1-1.
Peterhead were caught with the dilemma of whether to stick or twist. They had as much chance of forcing a second goal as their guests, but also knew a draw to take the game to penalties would be something of a moral victory given the four divisions separating the two clubs.
Hearts continued to force the issue in the hope of prising a winner but were lacking a spark in the final third. They came mightily close when Walker’s header from a corner ricocheted off Jamie Stevenson and on to the goal frame. The ball bounced out and was cleared. Nowak’s 20-yard drive soard high into the night air before Walker did have the ball in the net, only to be denied by an offside flag against Lafferty in the build-up.
On 89 minutes, League Two Peterhead produced the night’s defining moment. McAllister surged down the left side past two opponents and cut the ball back from the byline. Substitute Jordon Brown surged into the penalty area to try to connect, and was impeded by Djoum as he did so. Referee Mat Morthcroft pointed immediately to the penalty spot.
The experienced McAllister never lost his composure, calmly placing the ball on the spot and stroking it low to Hamilton’s right and into the net. The home fans erupted, as expected, to hail one of the greatest victories in Peterhead’s history.