William Hill Scottish Cup 4th Round, Saturday 7 January 2012 - Tynecastle
When the draw for the fourth round of the William Hill sponsored Scottish Cup paired Hearts with junior side Auchinleck Talbot, the inevitable cliches leapt from sports hacks around the country. Hearts potential banana skin, Hearts will give them the respect they deserve, Talbot's cup final, biggest game in Talbot's history, la de dah...
Auchinleck are the best junior side in Scotland and they would give most Second and Third Division teams - and probably most in the First Division - a run for their money. Given Hearts shyness in front of goal for much of this season, it was inevitable The Bot would do likewise to the Maroons this afternoon - and they did.
Hearts were camped in the non-league side's half for the majority of the game but a much changed home team from the the one that gubbed Hibs five days ago struggled to make the breakthrough. After 20 minutes, Hearts were awarded a penalty when Novikovas was brought down and young debutant Fraser Mullan grabbed the ball with high hopes of reversing Hearts recent fortunes from the penalty spot. He missed but one couldn't fault his courage at wanting to take the spot kick in the first place.
Talbot occasionally threatened on the break but Hearts were dominant throughout without looking like scoring. The embarrassment of an uncomfortable replay in Ayrshire beckoned until eight minutes from the end when Talbot's otherwise heroic goalkeeper Andy Leishman fumbled the ball allowing young Gordon Smith to net the winner for an increasingly desperate home side. The visitors deserved a replay and might well have got one if Pope's late strike had not been ruled out for offside - a questionable decision.
The plaudits go to Auchinleck Talbot and their magnificent support. Clubs like them should be give their chance in the Scottish League - their presence would breathe new life into an increasingly mundane competition.
Top man: Not many Hearts players passed muster but Talbot's keeper Andy Leishman was quite superb.