East Fife 2-3 Hearts: Jambos win Group A to push for seeded spot
Hearts won their Betfred Cup group with a perfect record to increase their chances of a seeded spot in the tournament’s knockout stage.
League One East Fife made life difficult for their Championship opponents and could easily have earned a draw despite falling 2-0 behind inside the first two minutes.
Hearts seized control early with Olly Lee’s double but Jack Hamilton halved the arrears for East Fife. Andy Irving’s thundering 30-yarder put the Tynecastle side 3-1 ahead after half-time.
Ryan Wallace struck East Fife’s second, however substitute Liam Watt passed up a glaring chance to equalise near the end.
In a week when BBC Scotland’s documentary at Tynecastle Park began showing on television, footage of this game is something Hearts will definitely want to review – for positive and negative reasons.
Christophe Berra’s first appearance in maroon for 11 months was the most notable of eight changes from Saturday’s league win against Inverness. He also donned the skipper’s armband for the evening with club captain Steven Naismith among the substitutes.
East Fife were more conservative, the return of Danny Denholm their only alteration on a clear and mild night in Levenmouth. Continuity didn’t help, for they found themselves 2-0 down inside two minutes.
Merely 20 seconds had passed on the clock when Lee collected Euan Henderson’s left-sided cross and stroked it low beyond the home goalkeeper Jordan Hart. The Englishman doubled the advantage from a tight angle a minute later following a short corner.
Hearts had begun at lightning pace which overwhelmed their part-time opponents initially. East Fife competed better as the first half progressed and deservedly reduced the deficit six minutes from the interval.
Wallace’s shot forced visiting goalkeeper Ross Stewart into a fine reaction save low to his right, but Hamilton converted the rebound. Stewart – deputising for Craig Gordon – produced a vital save moments later to stop Scott Agnew equalising.
That drew a roar from a pocket of locals perched on the wall at the coastal end of Bayview. They doubtless enjoyed seeing a game live given the ongoing public lockout due to Covid 19.
An injury forced Lee’s withdrawal early in the second period as Naismith entered the fray. Irving then scored Hearts’ third in spectacular fashion.
He gathered the ball 30 yards from goal and dispatched a vicious left-footed effort which tore into the East Fife net.
It should have killed the hosts off but their appetite remained undiminished. When right-back Aaron Dunsmore launched a long ball forward, Wallace fastened on to it and scored in behind the maroon defence.
At 3-2, this tie looked far from over. East Fife appealed vehemently for a penalty on 84 minutes when the ball struck Hearts substitute Stephen Kingsley’s arm in an aerial challenge inside the area. Referee Euan Anderson did not agree.
Watt should have earned Darren Young’s side a point in the dying moments but dragged his shot wide when through on goal.
Hearts will now look forward to Sunday’s last-16 draw as they wait on other results to determine the eight seeds.
East Fife (4-4-2): Hart; Dunsmore (Watt 82), Murdoch, Dunlop, Higgins; Slattery, Davidson, Agnew, Denholm (Collins 76); Hamilton (Smith 76), Wallace.
Hearts (4-3-3): Stewart; Brandon, Popescu, Berra (Kingsley 72), White; Lee (Naismith 49), Irving, McGill; Frear, Wighton, Henderson.
Referee: Euan Anderson.