Hibs suffered the heartbreak of losing a sudden-death penalty shoot-out as their hopes of heading back to Hampden for a Betfred Cup semi-final evaporated as Thomas Agyepong’s spot-kick crashed off the underside of Aberdeen’s crossbar.
Neither side managed to score in 120 minutes of football but the Capital side were left to rue a number of missed chances which had left the Dons hanging on at times.
Stevie Mallan’s saved penalty put Aberdeen in the driving seat after Graeme Shinnie had converted the first of their five, Gary Mackay-Steven scoring for the Dons as did Vykintas Slivka before the feet of Adam Bogdan stopped Niall McGinn’s shot, leaving Steven Whittaker to haul Hibs level at 2-2.
Bruce Anderson, Lewis Stevenson, Stevie May and Martin Boyle all traded penalties, putting the tie into a nail-biting, sudden-death shoot-out, Chris Forrester and Scott McKenna both scoring for Aberdeen as did Oli Shaw before on-loan Manchester City kid Agyepong was left distraught, the Dons winning 6-5.
Hibs had to endure an early Aberdeen onslaught and a scare as Mikey Devlin got up to meet Gary Mackay-Steven’s free-kick, knocking the ball down into the path of Andy Considine, who saw his shot ricochet off Mark Milligan and Ryan Porteous before being smuggled to safety.
It was fast and furious in those opening minutes with both sides clearly committed to attack, Hibs doing so through a strong foray forward from Emerson Hyndman, who spotted Florian Kamberi’s run, placing a well-weighted pass into the striker’s pass. He managed to get past Dons goalkeeper Joe Lewis but, having gone a little wide, his shot as he turned back onto his right foot went wide of the empty goal.
A one-two between Mallan and Kamberi engineered an opening for Hyndman but, much to his disgust, the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder lofted the ball over the target from 16 yards.
But, having started to look the more likely side to score, Hibs enjoyed another slice of good fortune when Milligan’s challenge on James Wilson was deemed a foul, Dom Ball stepping up to crack a shot off the underside of goalkeeper Bogdan’s bar, the ball bouncing down before being swept away from the danger area.
Seconds later, Dons keeper Lewis found himself tested for the first time, opting for safety first as he pushed Hyndman’s well-struck effort round the post.
Hibs thought they had gone ahead in the 34th minute as Martin Boyle outstripped the Aberdeen defence to get on the end of Mallan’s raking pass, the winger expertly beating Lewis but only having used a hand to bring the ball under control.
Boyle’s pace opened the Dons up again within minutes, Hyndman this time supplying the pass but, coming in from the right with only Lewis standing between him and a goal, he pushed his shot well beyond the far post.
It was almost becoming personal between Lewis and Boyle, the goalkeeper getting down to fingertip yet another effort wide as Mallan orchestrated the opening once more. And Lewis had Ball to thank for doing enough to put off Hyndman as he attempted to get on to the rebound when his goalkeeper couldn’t hold Shaw’s shot.
The first half had been an entertaining affair despite the lack of goals and the second began at the same breakneck speed, play raging from end to end without either side able to create that telling opening.
Bogdan, though, was tested for the first time, the Hungarian internationalist comfortably taking Mackay-Steven’s speculative effort from outside the penalty area.
A superb dummy from Kamberi which left Devlin for dead as the pair made for Paul Hanlon’s pass saw the Swiss striker make space for himself inside the Dons’ penalty area, but his rising shot cleared the bar as did another, on the angle, from Shaw.
Hibs’ claims for a penalty as Boyle’s shot struck Considine were waved away before Lewis pulled off a tremendous save to deny Hanlon as he got on the end of Mallan’s free-kick.
Boyle had been a thorn in Aberdeen’s side all night and he again almost provided the key to unlock the Dons defence, latching onto Efe Ambrose’s ball down the line to deliver a low cross with Kamberi unable to apply the killer touch.
The Easter Road side had most certainly held the upper hand for much of the second half with Aberdeen reduced to hitting on the counter-attack, Boyle again denied as the minutes began to tick down, this time the offside flag raised before Shaw, with Kamberi and Boyle in acres of space to his left, elected to go himself only to send his shot across goal and wide of the far post.
That left an extra 30 minutes to decide this quarter-final, McGinn and Shaw both had glorious chances in the first half of that time, the Dons substitute played in by Ball only to fire wildly over before the Hibs youngster over-ran a Mallan pass which would have left the goal at his mercy.
With players visibly tiring the danger of a costly mistake would have been in the minds of both Lennon and his Aberdeen counterpart Derek McInnes and such a moment almost arose as Porteous and Ambrose left the ball to each other, May nipping in only to find Bogdan standing “big” in front of him.
So on to penalties where Agyepong’s miss proved costly for the home side.
Hibs (3-1-4-2): Bogdan; Ambrose, Porteous, Hanlon (Agyepong 91); Milligan (Slivka 104); Boyle, Hyndman (Bartley 91), Mallan, Stevenson; Shaw, Kamberi (Whittaker 104). Unused subs: Horgan, Laidlaw, McGregor.
Aberdeen (4-4-2): Lewis; Logan, Devlin, McKenna, Considine; Mackay-Steven, Ball (Anderson 112), Shinnie, Lowe (McGinn 61); Cosgrove (May 77), Wilson (Forrester 90). Unused subs: Gleeson, Cerny, Campbell.
Referee: S McLean