League One Raith Rovers sprang a Betfred Cup surprise by holding Premiership Hearts to a draw before losing the subsequent penalty shootout 4-2.
The Edinburgh side underperformed on the day and their fortunes in this tournament could worsen on Monday when they are sanctioned for fielding an ineligible player.
Hearts could be fined and/or deducted points in Group C for their misdemeanour last Wednesday, adding extra importance to this game against Raith. Andy Irving took the field as a substitute against Cove Rangers despite not being registered and the punishment will be decided by an SPFL panel at a hearing on Monday.
The Tynecastle side took a bonus point from this affair after winning the shootout but they really wanted all three. It must be said their display did not merit such a reward. Kevin Nisbet scored early in the second half before Michael Smith's first Hearts goal prevented a damaging defeat. Olly Lee missed his penalty for Hearts but two failed attempts from the spot by Raith's Kyle Benedictus and Ross Matthews ended their hopes of an extra point.
New goalkeeper Colin Doyle started on the Hearts bench against a Raith side depleted by injury and carrying only four substitutes. They switched the game to Bayview, home of East Fife, whilst the Stark's Park pitch is relaid. They also needed a result having lost their opening group match against rivals Cowdenbeath last weekend.
The early stages were relatively frantic and Hearts' midweek goalscorer Lee again displayed his threat with two early attempts at the Raith goal. Left wing-back Jake Mulraney also looked threatening whenever he ran at the opposition. The visitors' problem was getting in behind those in dark blue as the first half progressed.
Kyle Lafferty's deflected free-kick bounced just wide of target on 26 minutes, but Hearts survived a fortunate escape ten minutes later. Centre-back Peter Haring conceded possession cheaply inside his own half and Raith mounted an attack down their left flank. From Euan Valentine's deep cross, Jamie Watson's header bounced beyond the far post.
As the half-time whistle sounded it was obvious Hearts needed a jolt to lift their performance with the scoreline blank. Raith were resilient and well-organised by manager Barry Smith and would have sensed the potential for a cup upset.
That possibility grew considerably five minutes after the restart. A meandering run by Nisbet from the right took him deep into opposition territory without a challenge. His square ball found Grant Gillespie and the midfielder's attempted shot deflected back into the path of Nisbet, who had continued his forward run. He completed the simple task of stroking the ball beyond goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal and into the Hearts net despite offside claims.
Craig Levein, the Tynecastle manager, quickly replaced Lafferty with teenage forward Aidan Keena. Another youngster, Callumn Morrison, came on for Oliver Bozanic as Hearts changed from a 3-4-1-2 system to 4-2-3-1. Raith might have struck again on 63 minutes when Gillespie sprung the offside trap, however his low cross was cleared by Lee.
Morrison, Mulraney and Burns sent several deliveries in towards the Raith goalkeeper Robbie Thomson, who dealt with them and a Haring header comfortably. The travelling fans from Edinburgh were becoming increasingly irked by events on the field as the clock ticked towards the final ten minutes.
Then came a goal out of nothing precisely when Hearts needed one. Full-back Smith ambled forward and sent a left-footed shot from 25 yards soaring into the top corner of Thomson's net. That teed up an onslaught for the closing stages as the Tynecastle side pursued a winner.
Smith had another attempt following Anthony McDonald's clever reverse pass, and Christophe Berra had a header disallowed in the 89th minute when referee Don Robertson judged a foul on goalkeeper Thomson. Morrison cut inside from the left but his angled attempt cleared the far post. Keena's shot was blocked by Benedictus and Berra saw another header cleared off the goal line. The final whistle confirmed penalties for the chance of a bonus point.
Smith, Keena, Steven Naismith and John Souttar scored for Hearts, although Lee's penalty was punched to safety by Thomson. Gillespie and Euan Murray hit the net for Raith, but Benedictus' shot was saved by Zlamal and Matthews sent his attempt over the bar. That ensured a 4-2 shootout win and an extra point for Levein's side.
Raith Rovers (4-1-4-1): Thomson; Watson, McKay, Benedictus, Murray; Davidson; Nisbet (Stevenson 80), Matthews, Gillespie, Valentine; Duggan (Milne 62). Unused subs: McGuff, Berry.
Hearts (3-4-1-2): Zlamal; Haring, Souttar, Berra; M Smith, Burns, Bozanic (Morrison 59), Mulraney (McDonald 73); Lee; Lafferty (Keena 52), Naismith. Unused subs: Doyle, Garuccio, Hughes, Edwards.
Referee: Don Robertson.