Goal aside, John Souttar showed exactly why he will be a huge miss for the Jam Tarts next season. He and Craig Halkett strolled it against what was a timid Don’s attack. Everything the Scotland centre-back did was smooth. They, alongside Stephen Kingsley, have been the bedrock of a fine defensive trio but as a pairing there is real potential for growth with a nice balance. That won’t be the case but more games like Wednesday night and the team will sew up third and have a very good chance in the Scottish Cup.
There was a really nice balance to the Hearts team as a whole. The 4-2-3-1 was very fluid and allowed Nathaniel Atkinson and Gary Mackay-Steven to provide width high up the park. Neither were devastating as wide men but had some nice moments. Mackay-Steven has frustrated during his 50 appearances for the club but has frequently shown flashes of his talent and linked well with Kingsley early on down the left to create some good openings. The left-back saw off the threat of Vicente Besuijen with ease and demonstrated his ability from him as one of the best two-ways defenders in the league. His goal from him, rather than an exquisite free-kick, a thumping header Nat Lofthouse would have been pleased with.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Hearts performance was the fluidity in the final third, the movement and rotation. Liam Boyce started strongly before fading but a constant threat on the periphery. Barrie McKay was able to pick up pockets and play some intelligent passes. He just seems to have been put on this earth to create chances.
It was Cammy Devlin advancing from midfield and Ellis Simms who really brought it all together. The latter may be guilty of missing chances but is a real nuisance with his size and mobility of him. He occupied the central pairing of David Bates and Declan Gallagher and provided good flick-ons as the central point of attack. Then there was Devlin who pressed and harried, something he is so effective at, unnerving opponents. But he was good in an attacking sense without the ball, moving into open space and keeping pressure on.
Gordon 7; Atkinson 6, Souttar 8, Halkett 7, Kingsley 8; Devlin 8 (Haring 6), Baningime 7; McKay 8, Boyce 7 (Halliday N/A), Mackay-Steven 6 (Ginnelly 6); Simms 8.
It was an evening of struggle for the Dons at Tynecastle Park and one which should serve as a reminder for Jim Goodwin – if he didn’t know already – how much work he has to do to get the team into a position where they should be challenging for third and the domestic cups. After the weekend where they didn’t get the result their performance merited, they very much got exactly what their display deserved. Nothing.
From early on in the match Aberdeen had to weather a storm, something David Bates and Declan Gallagher did really well. Bates in particular produced two really timely and important interventions to prevent almost certain goals for the home side. But it was constant pressure with the burly Simms a constant pain in the side. He was winning headers, running the flanks, in behind, linking play. It took both to try and keep him quiet.
In the midfield, Scott Brown, Connor Barron and Lewis Ferguson were overrun by their Hearts counterparts. If it was a cartoon you could imagine Brown with dazed eyes and question marks popping over his head such was the movement of Barrie McKay and Liam Boyce to drag him left, right and centre, plus the non-stop running and pressure of Cammy Devlin. Not what you want after returning from injury.
For Barron it will be a key game in his development, one which he can look back, analyze and build on. Lewis Ferguson and Aberdeen’s evening was summed up by the missed penalty. He was a tired surfer fighting against a powerful maroon wave.
It all resulted in the front three getting little service and Christian Ramirez becoming isolated. The pressure from Hearts with both full-backs advancing forced Matty Kennedy and Vicente Besuijen into deeper areas to support the full-backs who offered little in the way of an attacking presence.
Lewis 6; Eye 5, Gallagher 5, Bates 6, Hayes 5 (MacKenzie 6); Brown 4 (McGeouch 6), Barron 5 (Jenks 5), Ferguson 5; Besuijen 5, Ramirez 5, Kennedy 4 (McLennan 6).
Hearts fans hailed as ‘different class’ by Robbie Neilson for ticket initiative
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.