SPIRITED Hibs suffered League Cup quarter-final heartache as they were edged out on penalties by Dundee United on a night of high drama at Easter Road.
Following a captivating 3-3 draw in regulation time, in which the Championship side pegged back their Premiership visitors three times, the tie went all the way.
In the end, two saves from United keeper Rado Cierzniak would prove decisive as the Pole denied both Matty Kennedy and David Gray. Ex-Hibee John Rankin was the only United player to miss in a contest that finished 7-6 to the visitors.
The gallant home team were cheered off by their own fans after matching their higher-ranked opponents for most of the night.
After a bright start from Hibs, United went ahead in the 11th minute when Chris Erskine picked up possession 30 yards out, slipped the ball past Liam Fontaine all too easily and then slotted past Mark Oxley from the edge of the box.
Hibs levelled five minutes later when Scott Allan threaded a lovely pass through to Dominique Malonga, who burst into the left side of the penalty area and planted an excellent angled shot beyond Radoslaw Cierzniak.
United restored their lead in 18 minutes when John Rankin released Ryan Dow, who rounded Mark Oxley, squared to Aidan Connolly, who had the goal at his mercy. A combination of the United attacker and Hibs defender Lewis Stevenson, frantically rushing back to try and clear the danger, forced the ball into the net.
Hibs should have equalised after half an hour when Malonga delivered an inviting low cross from the left but the inrushing Jason Cummings clipped his effort over the top from ten yards out.
Home captain Liam Craig almost levelled a minute before the break but his sublime curling free-kick from 20 yards out was tipped round the post by Cierzniak.
The hosts started the second half strongly and deservedly equalised in 57 minutes when Cummings nipped in to head home a pinpoint Stevenson cross from the left.
But just four minutes later, United went back in front when Dow glanced in a header from a magnificent inswinging Blair Spittal corner.
Hibs came roaring back to equalise for a third time in 77 minutes when Matt Kennedy’s 25-yard deflected strike looped past Cierzniak and into the net to force extra-time.
The pace of the game became less frenetic in the added 30 minutes. United enjoyed the bulk of the possession but chances were kept to a minimum at both ends as the tie went to penalties.
Hibs: (4-3-1-2) - Oxley; Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson; Allan, Craig, Robertson (Stanton 118); Handling (Kennedy 68); Cummings (Harris 83), Malonga. Subs: Perntreou, Heffernan, Sinclair, Booth.
Dundee United: (3-2-4-1) Cierzniak; Souttar, Fojut, Townsend; Paton (Armstrong 66), Rankin; Spittal, Erskine, Connolly (Smith 66), Mackay-Steven (Ciftci 20); Dow. Subs: Szromnik, Bilate, Dillon, Telfer.
Ref: John Beaton