SCOTT ROBINSON remains bewildered by the astonishing events that denied he and his Hearts team-mates a place in next month’s League Cup final.
However, the midfielder is adamant that the shattering blow of losing on penalties to nine-man Inverness from the most comfortable position imaginable won’t knock the stuffing out of his spirited young side for the four months that remain of this endlessly-testing season.
The heartbreak of the Hearts players was painfully evident at Easter Road on Sunday afternoon as the men in white shirts sunk to their knees in despair at the end of what, by their own admission, was something of a botched bid to make it to the final. How everyone of a maroon persuasion must wish they could rewind to the 93rd-minute mark when they had just won a corner while 2-1 ahead with a two-man advantage.
“We’re absolutely gutted. Getting 2-1 up and then going into the last ten minutes we seemed totally at ease,” recalls Robinson. “Then they had the second man sent off and we won a corner with just seconds to go – we couldn’t have wished for a better situation. But we ended up losing the ball from the corner and they go up the park and equalise. Instead of trying to keep the ball in the corner, we tried to kick the ball off somebody and they nicked the ball and broke and scored. It’s hard to take, but it’s our own fault. We need to do better in that situation.
“In extra time, it looked like we ran out of ideas – we just couldn’t break them down. Sometimes it’s harder when teams who have had men sent off just sit in, but we should still have been doing better in extra time. Everyone in the dressing-room was devastated – we couldn’t believe what happened. It’s one of the craziest games I’ve ever been involved in. If we play that situation over 100 more times, I’m sure we wouldn’t concede that late goal. We all thought we were comfortable and heading through to the final but yet again a lack of concentration has cost us.”
A year previously, against the same opposition in the semi-final of the same competition at the same venue, a similar tale unfolded. Only that day it was Hearts who had the numerical disadvantage – after Robinson was sent off – as they dug deep to frustrate Inverness before beating them on penalties. How the tables had turned as the Caley Thistle players danced in disbelief in front of their 2000 jubilant supporters.
“Fair play to Inverness, they showed great spirit and kept battling away with nine men, so good luck to them in the final,” said Robinson. “They’ve done to us what we did to them last year after I got sent off. It’s vice-versa this year, so it’s our turn to take the heartache.”
Typically for Hearts, on a day when things unravelled in the most spectacular fashion imaginable, it was their trusty penalty expert who missed what proved to be the decisive kick in the shoot-out. Jamie Hamill had scored all four of his penalties this season, including two in the earlier rounds of the League Cup, but, having beaten Dean Brill with two free-kicks in regulation time, this time his strike from 12 yards was well saved by the Caley Thistle goalkeeper as John Hughes’ gallant Highlanders seized a crucial initiative.
While the agony and sense of regret will take some time to subside for all connected with Hearts, Robinson feels it was an accomplishment in itself for his side to even be within touching distance of a final given the obstacles they’ve had to overcome in this administration-ravaged season. “If anybody had said to me earlier in the season that we’d find ourselves a minute away from a final, I’d have probably laughed and said we had no chance of that,” said Robinson, “but we’ve got a team that just keeps battling away and that’s what got us in the position in the first place.
“We’ll not give up on the league either – we’ll keep fighting to the last game of the season. We just need to keep clawing away and try and stay up. We’ve not got a game for two weeks now so by the time that game in Inverness comes round, everyone’s heads will be sorted and we’ll be raring to go.”