Cove Rangers were beaten but not disgraced for the second time in five days in the Betfred Cup after pushing Premiership side Hearts all the way at Balmoral Stadium last night.
John Sheran’s side had no points to show for their efforts but they deserve all the plaudits for a spirited showing.
Cove welcomed back last season’s leading scorer Mitch Megginson after he missed his side’s 2-0 defeat at Caley Thistle on Saturday due to suspension.
Hearts manager Craig Levein handed debuts to seven of his new signings, with American goalkeeper Kevin Silva, Levein’s 12th acquisition, named on the bench after international clearance came through just before kick-off.
The first goal was always to be crucial in this one and it was the Jambos who got it in the 11th minute, with Olly Lee playing a one-two with Kyle Lafferty before drilling the ball low past Stuart McKenzie in the Cove goal from the edge of the box.
Cove responded with a rapid break down the right by Blair Yule and the midfielder cut the ball back for Megginson, who saw his shot blocked by John Souttar.
Hearts continued to look a threat in the final third, however, and former Caley Thistle winger Jake Mulraney, who was deployed at left wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation, went close from a Lafferty cross but his low drive went just wide of McKenzie’s left post.
Hearts had the ball in the back of the net again just after the half hour when Steven MacLean converted the rebound after McKenzie had blocked a Lafferty shot but the former St Johnstone striker was offside.
Souttar denied Megginson a chance at goal after the Cove forward broke clear in a one-on-one with the Hearts defender and the Jambos went close again just before the interval when Souttar’s looping header was cleared off the line by Connor Scully.
Hearts’s pressure paid off the in the 57th minute with a second goal as Peter Haring flicked on Oliver Bozanic’s corner and MacLean was on hand to score from close in.
It should have been three on the hour when Lee exchanged passes with MacLean before rounding McKenzie but, with the goal gaping, he hit the post and Cove cleared the danger.
The miss proved costly as Cove struck 15 minutes from time when Paul McManus tapped the ball into the empty net from a Daniel Park cross to set up a frantic finale but Hearts stood firm to secure victory.
Cove Rangers – McKenzie,C. Milne (Redford 76), H. Milne, Strachan, Yule, Kelly, Park, Scully, Megginson, McManus, Masson (Smith 80). Subs not used – Smith, Watson, Gray, Emmett, McCafferty.
Hearts – Zlamal, Souttar, Haring, Berra, Bozanic, Lee (Irving 65), Lafferty, MacLean (Smith 65), Mulraney (Ikpeazu 80), Burns, Morrison. Subs not used – Silva, Hughes, Edwards, Keena.
Referee – Nick Walsh