The Easter Road head coach hailed his players for a battling performance at Rugby Park which eventually saw the capital outfit win a penalty shootout against Kilmarnock.
Goalkeeper Chris Maxwell was the hero of the day, saving Rory McKenzie’s effort to earn Hibs a 5-4 win after striker Oli Shaw had seen his earlier effort saved while Stephen O’Donnell also missed for the home side.
But Hibs were reduced to ten men two minutes before the end of extra-time, Scotland Under-21 defender Ryan Porteous sent off for scything down Killie’s Dom Thomas, the red card ruling him out this weekend.
A delighted Heckingbottom, who has been under pressure after a string of poor league results, culminating in Sunday’s derby defeat by Hearts, said: “We showed a lot of character to go all the way to the end.
“It is never easy when you go behind in a shootout but we found a way to get through it. It means a lot because if it goes the other way after putting all that effort in then your are totally sick.
“It says a lot we managed to hold our nerve. People are always going to question you and there is only one way to answer them. We proved how together we were in the shoot-out.
“The sending off could have cost us. I have spoken to Ryan but I don’t want to say too much about that. There’s no doubt it was a red card.”
Heckingbottom insisted all focus is now on Saturday’s visit from Celtic, 5-0 Betfred Cup winners over Partick Thistle, adamant it will have no bearing on their later date at Hampden. “It’s not a dress rehearsal,” he said. “It’s a league game. When the cup comes round, it’s a totally different experience.”
But Heckingbottom believes last night’s win can act as a springboard for his players. He said: “We have to do it. I’m just pleased tonight the players have got their rewards, the fans have got their rewards and there’s been a battling performance because that’s the question that’s been put to the team. We understand that, it’s been justified.”
Kilmarnock goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu claimed Tom James had touched the ball twice as he slipped taking Hibs’ fifth penalty which, had it been ruled out for that reason, would have left Rory McKenzie to put the Ayrshire club through.