Heart of Midlothian came close to becoming the latest victim of this remarkable Scottish Cup story as they clung on to a semi-final place in the face of fearsome Partick Thistle scrutiny at Tynecastle yesterday.
A team that is heading to the Champions' League were almost overwhelmed by gritty Second Division opponents after Mark Roberts' 75th-minute goal prompted a late siege. With the Old Firm being eliminated, only two of the last four will come from the top flight. Hearts are the bookmakers' favourites but they did not wear the mantle well yesterday.
For much of the afternoon, the only noise inside a packed Tynecastle came from the 3,000 visiting fans, many of whom were in kilts and waving Scotland flags, perhaps heading off to nearby Murrayfield afterwards for the Calcutta Cup showdown.
Partick outplayed and outfought Graham Rix's side for much of the contest but were betrayed by a lack of a cutting edge and denied by the excellence of Craig Gordon.
Jim Duffy, the Hearts director of football, admitted: "If Gordon had not made that wonder save, we could have been looking at a replay. Partick deserve real credit but all that matters is being one step closer to that final." Even though Hearts took their customary early lead, when Edgaras Jankauskas rose to glance Paul Hartley's sixth-minute cross superbly into the roof of the net, they never looked comfortable.
Partick gradually overcame their nerves and Mark Roberts came close with a shot that flew just over the bar. Stephen McConalogue looked as if he would restore parity in the 34th minute when Sandy Hodge's cross was knocked down to him by Scott Boyd but the striker volleyed over from six yards.
There was little change in the pattern of the contest after the interval. Partick were denied an equaliser in the 58th minute when Gordon pulled off a remarkable save from Billy Gibson, after Ricky Gillies tapped a free-kick into his path and the midfielder's fierce 25-yard shot was acrobatically pushed away.
Hearts went 2-0 up six minutes later when Deividas Cesnauskas scored against the run of play. It was a goal of true quality, as Cesnauskas gathered a throw-in near the right corner flag and eluded Darren Brady before cutting across the box and thrashing a venomous left-foot shot into the roof of the net. However, Partick never threw in the towel. They were helped in part by the dismissal of Hearts substitute Roman Bednar who was sent off after 73 minutes for incurring two silly cautions in 13 minutes on the pitch.
Two minutes after that, Roberts halved the deficit with a breathtaking goal, advancing into the box and bemusing the defence with his footwork before curling his shot beyond the reach of Gordon.
Hearts were engulfed by panic and had Brady scored late on, a replay would have beckoned, but Partick ran out of time.Reuse content