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Hibs 3 Dundee United 3 (Utd win 7-6 on pens): Thriller gives United a semi to look forward to

Dundee United's Radoslaw Cierzniak excelled himself in a penalty shootout on Wednesday night
Dundee United's Radoslaw Cierzniak excelled himself in a penalty shootout on Wednesday night

Dundee United are through to the semi-finals of the League Cup following an unbelievable night of high drama in Edinburgh against Hibs.

Both sides gave their all in a pulsating cup tie with the Tangerines goalkeeper Rado Cierzniak gaining hero status with two vital saves in the penalty shoot-out after extra-time ended goalless.

It was sad that there had to be a loser with both sides deserving enormous credit for the way they approached this cracking cup tie.

United went into the game looking to make amends for the disappointing result and performance in the Highlands against Inverness at the weekend.

Manager Jackie McNamara made wholesale changes from that defeat with Sean Dillon, Keith Watson, Nadir Ciftci, Stuart Armstrong and Callum Morris being replaced by Conor Townsend, Aidan Connolly, Blair Spittal, John Souttar and Paul Paton with the latter no doubt glad to have the chance to put his much-publicised off-field problems to the side for at least the duration of the game.

Alan Stubbs’ side were without the suspended Dylan McGeouch who was sent off in the last round against Ross County and he was replaced by former St Johnstone favourite Liam Craig, who also wore the captain’s armband.

Hibs had two former United favourites in their ranks in the shape of Scott Robertson and Scott Allan.

The first chance of the match fell to Hibs when the ball made its way to David Gray lurking on the left of the United penalty box but his angled shot looped wide.

However, it was the Tangerines who stormed into the lead in the 12th minute when Ryan Dow played in Chris Erskine behind the Hibs defence and the midfielder kept his cool before slotting past home goalie Mark Oxley from just inside his penalty area.

That lead though only lasted five minutes with Allan spraying a cross field pass to Dominique Malonga whose angled shot flew past Rado Cierzniak and into the far corner of the net.

This ding-dong cup tie then swept United’s way once again in the 19th minute.

Dow raced in on goal with Oxley diving at his feet to make a block. With the away fans shouting for a penalty, Dow gathered the ball once again and played it across goal with Connolly applying the finishing touch from around eight yards out to give the Tangerines the lead.

Shortly after, McNamara was forced to make a substitution with the injured Gary Mackay-Steven being replaced by Ciftci.

Both sides were serving up some great entertainment and it was Hibs turn next to threaten in the 31st minute when a Malonga cross found Jason Cummings who sent a shot over Cierzniak’s bar.

The same Hibs player then tried his luck with a speculative long-range effort but it was comfortably held by the United keeper.

Dow then found himself in space in the Hibs box and just when it looked like he would pull the trigger, home defender Liam Fontaine made a desperate last-gasp tackle to clear the danger.

As the half drew to a close, the drama continued with Cierzniak pulling off an outstanding diving save to palm away a Craig free-kick from just outside the United box following a Paton foul on Malonga.

Then at the other end, the Tangerines were certain they should have had a penalty when Dow was brought down by Robertson but referee John Beaton waved away their appeals.

Both sides were no doubt glad of the breather during the interval but there was certainly no let up as the game began again with Craig having an opportunity just seconds after the restart but he shot over Cierzniak’s bar.

The United keeper came to the rescue in the 56th minute when a corner broke kindly to Hibs Gray with Cierzniak making a vital block from his shot.

However, the big Polish stopper was helpless just seconds later to stop the home side from equalising. Lewis Stevenson delivered a great ball from the left with the onrushing Cummings sending a thumping header into the back of the net.

United came straight back at Hibs though with Erskine having a shot cleared off the line by Paul Hanlon.

Then on 61 minutes, McNamara’s men sensationally took the lead once again when Dow headed in a Spittal corner from close range.

United looked to put the game to bed once and for all with Ciftci then going close with a shot from 25 yards.

Fontaine pushed forward looking to help Hibs equalise and the big defender was just inches wide with a header in the 71st minute.

Hibs though did draw level in the 78th minute when substitute Matthew Kennedy cut in from the left and hit a shot from just outside of the United box which took a huge deflection past the helpless Cierzniak.

Hibs tails were up and they had further chances for Malonga and Craig but neither could convert and the game entered extra time.

Considering the frenetic nature of normal time, it was no surprise that the pace slowed and chances were few and far between in the first 15 minutes of added time.

The second half was tense again although Cierzniak’s palms were stung by a long-range Craig effort while Dow came close with a similar strike of his own.

However, neither side could apply the killer touch and it was time for the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Both sides started immaculately with Erskine, Souttar, Armstrong, Dow, Ciftci and Spittal all converting with Allan, Craig, Hanlon, Harris, Malonga and then Stanton doing the same for Hibs.

Next up stepped John Rankin but he shot over. Hibs Kennedy then had the chance to take his side into the semi-finals but Cierzniak saved well.

Conor Townsend then shot past Oxley to give United the advantage once again. Hibs Gray stepped up but Cierzniak was the United hero pulling off a fabulous save to take his side through on this most dramatic of nights.

Attendance 8,699.

Hibs Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Robertson (Stanton, 90+28), Craig, Stevenson, Handling (Kennedy, 68), Allan, Malonga, Cummings (Harris, 84).

Subs not used Perntreou, Heffernan, Sinclair, Booth.

Dundee United Cierzniak, Souttar, Townsend, Spittal, Paton (Smith, 66), Rankin, Mackay-Steven (Ciftci, 20), Dow, Connolly (Armstrong, 66), Erskine.

Subs not used Szromnik, Bilate, Dillon, Telfer.

Referee John Beaton.