Hearts verdict: Brora defeat worst in club's history on sobering night for all - mountainous task for some now
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Exiting the Scottish Cup to Highland League Brora Rangers, who hadn’t played competitively in ten weeks, makes for the worst result in Tynecastle history.
Hearts reached the final of this competition in each of the past two seasons but at tiny Dudgeon Park they were outdone by a gritty home side in the second round.
Brora’s commitment and attitude won them the right to play Stranraer in the next round. In truth, some Hearts players could learn much from their gutsy approach.
They even lasted the pace to belie the fact they have trained just five times since March 9. Their previous game was January 11.
Mountainous task in regaining faith
Anyone who has watched Hearts this season would admit a night like this has been coming. Players and staff remained locked in the away changing area for a long spell after full-time. Robbie Neilson was visibly embarrassed and angry as he spoke post-match.
The squad at Hearts is, on paper, much better than the performances served up in recent weeks. Here, there was a lack of bravery and responsibility when the team really needed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The saving grace for those in light blue and maroon was that there were no travelling fans to vent their fury at them, such was the lack of quality on show.
So many at the club now face a mountainous task in regaining the faith of dejected fans. While winning the Championship and promotion back to the top flight is all but secured, this result will linger long for those involved in the Highlands. It is hard to see anything else but a rebuild at the end of the current campaign, with management unlikely to trust those who have put in too many inadequate displays in the last few months.
How the match unfolded
Striker Jordan Macrae scored in the first half, Christophe Berra equalised after the break and midfielder Martin Maclean struck the tie’s decisive goal minutes later.
It must be said Brora were the better team in the first period and defended tenaciously throughout the second. Hearts simply weren’t incisive or clinical enough in the final third, spent too long passing sideways and paid a hefty price.
Minus eight first-team players, the Edinburgh club lined up with Craig Halkett deputising at right-back. Peter Haring returned from suspension to partner Berra in central defence, with Aidy White at left-back and Ross Stewart in goal.
Despite an attacking start by the visitors, Brora took the lead on 11 minutes through Macrae. He collected namesake Andy’s through ball and fired it past Stewart into the top corner. The roar of celebration around Dudgeon Park told its own story as the shock sunk in.
Hearts looked unsettled and Macrae should have scored again ten minutes later, however his shot following a corner landed off target. Joe Malin in the Brora goal was finally called upon to save from Armand Gnanduillet and then Aaron McEneff.
The Highlanders appealed for a penalty after half an hour when midfielder Tom Kelly went down. He claimed goalkeeper Stewart fouled him emerging for a ball chested back tamely by White, but referee Peter Stuart disagreed.
The half ended with Malin beating away McEneff’s shot, leaving Hearts to retreat with a 1-0 deficit at the break. It was no surprise to see Liam Boyce replace Gervane Kastaneer for the second period.
Gnanduillet blasted a shot off Malin seconds after the restart before Walker spurned a glorious chance to equalise from Gnanduillet’s pass.
As the clock ticked down Brora indulged in as much time-wasting and fouling as they could while their guests grew increasingly exasperated. The red shirts defended their goal manfully as a plethora of crosses arrived.
Eventually Berra levelled. A corner was partially cleared, returned goalwards by Walker, struck on the volley by the defender and into the bottom corner.
The relief was short-lived as Maclean restored his team’s advantage moments later. Bjorn Wagenaar’s free-kick was palmed away by Stewart and struck high into the net by Maclean at the back post.
That was sufficient to take Brora through and send shockwaves throughout the Scottish football community.
Brora Rangers (4-4-2): Malin; Gamble (Morrison 64), Nicolson, Williamson, Macdonald; Kelly, Gillespie, Maclean, Wagenaar (Macdonald 81); J Macrae, A Macrae (Brindle 64).
Hearts (4-3-3): Stewart; Halkett, Haring, Berra, White; McEneff (Henderson 58), Irving, Walker; Kastaneer (Boyce 46), Gnanduillet, Mackay-Steven.