The Dons paid the heaviest price for conceding a late equaliser when seemingly cruising through to the semi-finals at Tynecastle, the game going from there to a penalty shootout that will give everyone nightmares for days to come.
For the Betfred Cup quarter-final at Tynecastle, Derek McInnes made four changes to the starting line up that won 2-0 at Livingston on Saturday. Zak Vyner, Niall McGinn, Jon Gallagher and Curtis Main all dropped to the bench to be replaced by Shay Logan, Connor McLennan, James Wilson and Sam Cosgrove. Ethan Ross replaced Connor Barron on the bench. After their 2-1 win over Hibs at Easter Road in the Edinburgh derby on Sunday, Craig Levein made just the one change, Clare dropping to the bench to be replaced by MacLean.
Hearts made a rampant start and could have been one up after just 36 seconds, Ikpeazu bullying his way through before shaping a 20 yard shot around Joe Lewis. Fortunately the ball smashed against the bar but it was Ikpeazu who was quickest to the rebound, his header dribbling just wide of goal. Within a minute, Meshino twisted and turned into the box from the Hearts left before smashing a shot at goal, Lewis pushing the ball to safety as the hosts tore into the game.
On 11 minutes though, for the first time, the action was all at the other end, Cosgrove playing the ball on to Ryan Hedges. A clever turn got him into the box and as he was heading for goal, Berra stepped across him and brought him down. Penalty for the Dons. Cosgrove sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and slotted the ball into the bottom corner for his 12th goal of the season.
To their credit, Hearts picked themselves up and after 16 minutes, a Meshino drive from the edge of the box was deflected wide of goal as the hosts continued to knock the ball around with confidence. The Dons were under siege at this stage and the seemingly inevitable equaliser came in the 22nd minute, Michael Devlin missing his header as Damour's cross came into the box, MacLean left all alone a dozen yards out and with plenty of time to slot past the helpless Lewis.
There was respite at last in the 28th minute with a free-kick on the left, Hedges' cross reaching Devlin at the back post but his looping header was comfortable for Pereira. Two minutes later, the Dons won penalty number two, good feet from Hedges on the edge of the box earning space to slot Wilson in on goal, Damour removing his legs from beneath him and getting a yellow card for his troubles. Ice cold Cosgrove went through a stuttering run, put the keeper on his backside and rolled the ball the other way. It was 2-1 to the Dons and it might have been three just three minutes later, lovely passing football involving Hedges and Wilson ending with Hedges' cross into the six yard box being scrambled away. Much, much better now from Aberdeen and there was another chance in the 35th minute, McLennan darting into the box, his shot from a tight angle saved by Pereira with his feet.
In the final minute, Hearts' deep free-kick from near halfway found Halkett at the back post, his low drive smothered by Lewis at the near post, seeing the Dons safely to the break in the lead. After 30 minutes spent largely under the cosh, the Dons had enjoyed much the better of the last 15 minutes as Hearts' frustration started to get the better of them.
HALF-TIME: Hearts 1 Aberdeen 2
Hearts made a sharp start to the second half too, winning a free-kick on the left edge of the box, Meshino putting his shot into the middle of the wall. The Dons came much closer in the 50th minute, a great cross from Logan picking out Cosgrove in the six yard box but he got underneath the header and put it over the bar.
The Dons were forced into a change two minutes later, Wilson twice in the wars early in the second half before having to give way to Jon Gallagher. As we approached the hour, there was plenty of huffing and puffing from Hearts, but precious few attacking ideas beyond using the power of Ikpeazu to try and bundle their way forward, the Dons keeping their hosts at arm's length from Lewis' goal despite their territorial advantage.
Logan went in the book in the 63rd minute, clattering Mulraney on halfway, McGinn replacing McLennan almost immediately. Ikpeazu then had a golden chance in the 65th minute, Whelan's corner finding him with a shooting chance 12 yards out but he produced the weakest of efforts that Lewis snaffled gratefully.
Cosgrove wasn't too far from a hat-trick with an opportunistic strike from 25 yards on 68 minutes that glanced wide off a thin deflection. Hearts then replaced MacLean with Clare as Craig Levein looked to make something happen for his team going into the final 21 minutes, the Dons' comfort at the back and ability to keep their shape with ease a real cause for concern for the Hearts boss.
Aberdeen almost sealed it in the 73rd minute. Andy Considine's terrific ball out from the back found Gallagher on the left. He timed his pass into the run of Greg Leigh perfectly, the full-back sweeping his shot on the run across goal and inches wide of the far post of scoring what would have been a wonderful goal. Damour was the next to be sacrificed by Hearts in the 75th minute, replaced by Keena, the Dons making their third change four minutes later when Vyner replaced Dean Campbell, stricken by cramp after a non-stop shift in the middle of the park.
Ikpeazu smacked a 20 yarder well wide in the 80th minute, then the ineffectual Meshino was replaced by Morrison. Such was the quality of the Dons' pressing and closing down of space, Hearts were restricted to shooting from distance, a weak effort from Keena dribbling through to Lewis in the 82nd minute as Aberdeen looked to see the game out.
Hedges collected a booking after a ten yard run with Halkett's shirt in his hand to try and halt his momentum in the 84th minute - a classic example of taking one for the team. A Hearts ball boy tried to do likewise three minutes from the end, nipping onto the pitch to hurry things along, but doing it before the ball had gone out of play, generously wasting 45 seconds for the Dons as the referee tried to sort out a drop ball.
Five minutes of time were mysteriously added on at the end though and they proved too many for Aberdeen, Hearts grabbing an equaliser from nowhere, Mulraney clipping a cross into the box, Halkett appearing on the scene with a late run to nod the ball beyond Lewis from ten yards out, hugely disappointing after the Dons had managed the second half so comfortably.
Once again, Aberdeen would face extra time in this competition.
FULL-TIME: Hearts 2 Aberdeen 2
Extra-time took a while to get going but four minutes in, after a goalmouth scramble, it looked for all the world as if Aberdeen should have had a third penalty for a blatant handball, but they got just a corner instead, Hedges' deep ball worked back to Lewis Ferguson, his first time shot on the turn rising just over the bar. The visitors worked another opening two minutes later, McGinn slinging in a cross to the back post, Cosgrove heading over the bar from a difficult angle.
In a first half that was pretty lacklustre, Leigh set the Dons on their way with a great interception in the 103rd minute, dashing forward and feeding Gallagher on the left but his shot from outside the box found the crowd. A minute later, Halkett was extremely lucky not to get a second yellow card after hauling down Cosgrove.
HALF-TIME EXTRA TIME: Hearts 2 Aberdeen 2
Hearts should have been in front 30 seconds into the second half, a strong run from Ikpeazu down the left ended with him drilling the ball across goal but fortunately, nobody could apply a finishing touch.
It was Aberdeen's turn to press in the 108th minute, great play from Hedges and Leigh ending with a fine cross from the full-back, but Hearts were somehow able to get the ball clear. Four minutes later, a clipped Gallagher cross looked as if it might catch Pereira out before the goalkeeper clutched the ball beneath the bar. Hearts then replaced Morrison with Irving with six minutes to go as the prospect of penalties began to grip the game. Aberdeen responded in the 119th minute by bringing on Anderson for Devlin.
There was time for one last effort at each end, Cosgrove driving at goal from the right edge of the box but putting it wide of the target, then Clare putting a low shot from 20 yards too close to Lewis and from there, we were on to penalties.
FULL-TIME EXTRA TIME: Hearts 2 Aberdeen 2
The kicks were taken in front of the Hearts fans, Aberdeen taking the first kick. Cosgrove stepped forward and this time, going for power, he put it over the bar.
Whelan was first up for Hearts, taking a mighty run up before stuttering before the ball, sending Lewis the wrong way to score in the bottom corner.
McGinn next and like Cosgrove, he too hammered the spot kick over the bar and into the crowd to leave the Dons in trouble.
Smith cracked his penalty into the roof of the net for 2-0 after two kicks each.
Anderson simply had to score but Pereira flung himself to his left to claw the ball away, leaving Keena to walk forward and pop the ball into the top corner to win the game 3-0 on penalties, a painful blow for the Dons after being in such control for so long before conceding that late equaliser.