Coach Robbie Neilson admitted that first-team experience proved the difference as Hearts Under-20s booked a SFA Youth Cup final spot with a 3-0 over Kilmarnock.
The young Jambos will now face Rangers, who defeated St Mirren 1-0 in the other semi-final yesterday.
In Saturday’s match, Neilson was able to call on players such as Callum Paterson, Jordan McGhee, Billy King, Dale Carrick and Sam Nicholson – all of whom have starred for the Jambos in the Premiership this season. After seeing his team outplay the Killie youngsters in front of around 1600 fans at Tynecastle, Neilson said: “The lads did very well. I thought that from back to front we were excellent. I told them before the game that a shut out was important and they responded in giving Killie few chances. “I also told them that to get to a final was a great thrill and they also took that on board.
“Most of those lads are too good for the Under-20 team, to be honest, They have all come on a ton since the start of the season. Even some of the younger lads, either still at, or just out of school are also showing a marked improvement.
“I am sure the fans – who gave us great support on Saturday – will agree with those sentiments.”
Hearts began the match strongly with Gary Oliver in the thick of the action in the first 15 minutes, firing a shot wide, heading a King cross off target and having a further shot blocked by a defender.
It took the visitors almost 20 minutes to have their first attempt at goal, Dylan Pooler firing a 12-yard shot over the crossbar. Hearts then opened the scoring on 23 minutes, King being tripped in the box by a defender and Carrick scoring from the penalty spot.
Three minutes later, Killie forced their first corner from which Mark O’Hara blazed a shot over the crossbar. Minutes later, Kilmarnock first-team regular Chris Johnston dragged a shot wide from a good position.
Hearts were soon back in attack with a further penalty appeal on 33 minutes, King again going down following a challenge. Two minutes later, though, the second goal arrived when Killie’s Greg Taylor turned King’s right-wing cross into his own net under pressure from Carrick.
On the stroke of half-time, Liam Gordon had an effort saved by Killie goalkeeper Conor Brennan as Hearts finished the first half strongly.
Kilmarnock lost their captain Craig Slater through injury at half-time but opened the second half on the offensive, Pooler having a shot saved by Jack Hamilton.
The same player had a further attempt cleared off the line by Oliver within the opening six minutes. On 57 minutes, the tie was wrapped up courtesy of Killie substitute Adam Hodge, who diverted a Nicholson cut-back from the right flank into his own net.
Hamilton saved a Johnston shot at full stretch on 62 minutes in what was the visitors’ last serious attempt at goal.
Hearts may have scored more in the closing stages from an Angus Beith free-kick that flashed just past a post, a Liam Smith shot that just cleared the crossbar and a Robbie Buchanan shot which was brilliantly saved by Brennan.
Killie coach James Fowler wished the young Jambos well for the final. He said: “We cannot complain at the result. Hearts were by far the better side. However, we had two or three openings that we may have converted. We also lost two of the three goals cheaply, but had no complaint about the penalty award.
“We were short of Kiltie and Muirhead, two good players going forward, but can’t use that as an excuse. We wish Hearts well in the final.”
Hearts: Hamilton, Paterson, Gordon, McGhee, L Smith, King, A Scott, Beith (Simpson 89), Nicholson (Flanagan 86), Oliver (Buchanan 81), Carrick. Subs: Sneddon, Ford.
Kilmarnock: Brennan, Hawkshaw, Slater (Hodge 46), O’Hara, Thomson (Dempster 72), Splaine, Taylor, Syme, Johnston, Pooler, Whittaker (McLean 64). Subs: Mackay, Murray.