John Hughes, the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, called for the League Cup final to be held at Celtic Park or Ibrox after his team dramatically won through yesterday to face Aberdeen on March 16.
The Inverness club will be contesting the first major final in its 20-year history and Hampden's unavailability because of the Commonwealth Games means the SPFL will this week announce this season's alternative venue. That is almost certain to be Celtic Park. The Scottish champions' ground is already the venue for this season's William Hill Scottish Cup final and the club wants the League Cup too, while their stadium is also Aberdeen's preference. A likely crowd of 30,000 to 35,000 would be accommodated by closing off Parkhead's upper tiers.
Inverness were reduced to nine men but still beat Hearts 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Easter Road. Greg Tansey put them ahead before Jamie Hamill scored twice, but Nick Ross equalised deep in stoppage time. Debutant Paul McCallum and Hamill missed two of Hearts' penalties before Ross Draper scored the decisive one for Inverness. Hughes said the club will appeal against Josh Meekings' straight red card in the hope that it is reduced to a yellow, allowing him to play in the final. Their other centre-half, Gary Warren, was also dismissed.
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"Take us to Glasgow for the final," said Hughes. "I would love it to be here, personally, to win a cup here at Easter Road, but I feel Ibrox or Parkhead. For some unknown reason they decided to play the semi-final of a cup, with a 12.15 kick-off, down in Edinburgh, right in Hearts' back yard. We got the wrong end of the stick, we were outnumbered all over the place, so that makes the result a wee bit sweeter.
"Two guys are going to miss that final - Josh Meekings and Gary Warren - who deserve to be there. One or two decisions I found hard to work out today. I don't think Gary's first one was a booking, the second one was even worse. Is Josh Meekings' a red card? He tripped him [Scott Robinson], that's all. Is that any worse than the boy Robinson's in the first five minutes, two-footed, right in front of the dug-out? Two honest, hard-working boys are going to miss out on the final. I think we have a case to appeal there.
"The result isn't down to me, it's those boys in there. Even at 2-1 down you always have belief, especially with the spirit, desire and commitment I've seen from these guys. It's an inspiration to go in and work with them. We had to be organised. We were up against it, down to nine men, you have to organise ~ and shape it. You just give it your best shot. We stuck strong, stuck together and came up trumps."
Hearts manager Gary Locke accepted that his team's defeat was largely self-inflicted. Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald felt Draper had handled the ball moments before Tansey scored Inverness's magnificent opener but his manager was more upset by the defeat as a whole. "This will be the hardest thing to bounce back from because the opportunity was there for us. We were in a fantastic position and we've thrown it away. It's very difficult to take but we have no-one else to blame but ourselves. We were in a good position, a minute to go, we get a corner and we should have kept it in the corner and seen the game out. We stupidly give the ball away and they go upfield and score. It's a hard one to take. We didn't move the ball quickly enough, we tried to force things and got caught running with the ball instead of moving it. Credit to Inverness, I thought they defended brilliantly in extra time. For me, it's an opportunity missed. We did have two or three experienced players on the pitch so I'm not going to use inexperience as an excuse."