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<-Srce <-Type Guardian ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John McGlynn <-auth Ewan Murray auth-> Euan Norris
Robinson Scott [A Shinnie 49]
27 of 051 Michael Ngoo 66LC N

Hearts crush Inverness' cup final dream in penalty shootout

• Inverness 1-1 Hearts (Hearts win 5-4 on penalties)
• Shinnie 49; Ngoo 66

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Ewan Murray at Easter Road
The Observer, Saturday 26 January 2013 19.20 GMT
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Hearts' Ngoo celebrates his goal against Inverness
Hearts' Michael Ngoo, right, celebrates his equalising goal against Inverness in the League Cup semi-final at Easter Road. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Heart of Midlothian will feel this is their finest chance to atone for a woeful record in Scotland's League Cup. Down to 10 men, and taken to penalties by high-flying Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hearts progressed to the final. Not since 1962 have the Edinburgh triumphed in this competition; twice on the run to the Hampden showpiece Hearts have won on penalty kicks. This time, by five goals to four.

In what soon regressed into an engrossing war of attrition, Andrew Shinnie and the Hearts debutant, Liverpool's loan forward Michael Ngoo, traded goals. Hearts had Scott Robinson sent off but a missed spot-kick by the Inverness substitute Philip Roberts sent John McGlynn and his players into raptures. There was jubilation, too, for the vast majority of an Easter Road crowd.

A key ingredient of Inverness' success this season has been continuity. A lack of injuries and suspension has allowed Terry Butcher to call upon basically the same players for the entire campaign; a luxury afforded to few managers.

Yet within that group are a clutch of players who have been among the most impressive in Scotland in recent months. It was an embarrassment, then, for Inverness as a city, Caledonian Thistle as a club and Scottish football in general that such a pitifully low number of supporters arrived for the north for this game. It marked only a second appearance for Inverness in a national semi-final, at three o'clock on a Saturday and with tickets easily affordable; Butcher's work deserves greater recognition from the people of the Highlands .

In contrast, McGlynn surprised many with his selection for this tie. The youngsters Fraser Mullen and Callum Tapping made their first starts of the season with Jamie Walker, Jason Holt and Ngoo emphasising Hearts' fresh-faced appearance. Still, Hearts opened the semi-final as the brighter team. Another Liverpool loanee, Danny Wilson, forced Antonio Reguero into a low save before the Edinburgh team had a penalty claim denied as Walker tumbled over Graeme Shinnie's challenge.

A glorious Inverness chance was to follow. The Hearts defence to play offside as Andrew Shinnie lobbed a pass through for Billy McKay. The striker, who came into this match having scored 20 goals for his club this season, was unusually wasteful in allowing Jamie MacDonald to save. The encounter lacked nothing in niggle. With 24 minutes gone, Ngoo and Gary Warren received a caution apiece after a clash on the halfway line. For his part, Warren was fortunate not to escape more severe action having kicked out at the Hearts striker. Inverness's Richie Foran was similarly fortunate after a late foul on Walker, having already been booked.

Euan Norris was to offer a generally curious and erratic refereeing performance. Later in the match, McKay was strangely shown clemency when tugging back Andy Webster; again, a booking had already been issued. Ngoo, after that early caution, had half a dozen free-kicks given against him without another booking for persistent fouling .

Fittingly, given his prominence, it was Ngoo who came the closest to breaking the first-half parity. From Wilson's cross, the Ngoo headed off the inside of an Inverness post. Butcher's men went one better within five minutes of the restart. Andrew Driver was culpable in possession for Hearts, allowing Andrew Shinnie to drive into the penalty area. The midfielder, rightly courted by bigger clubs, supplied a fine, low and angled finish past MacDonald.

Hearts displayed admirable spirit to recover from that blow. Mullen's free-kick was knocked across goal and into Ngoo's path by Wilson; the forward volleyed beyond Reguero from close range. What had long-since seemed an inevitable red card arrived with 13 minutes of regulation time to play. Robinson lunged with two feet into Ross Draper, with Hearts' protests over Norris's dismissal in vain.

Extra time beckoned. In the first period of that, MacDonald supplied wonderful save from Andrew Shinnie, moments after McKay was again profligate in front of the Hearts goal. Roberts was similarly so, much to the cost of Inverness.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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