IT WAS a day for fond farewells. Gavin Rae, one of many who have been told that they have no future at Aberdeen, was given a standing ovation when he was substituted with six minutes left.
Scorers: Aberdeen: Hamill (77 og); Hearts: Stevenson (62)
Referee: Crawford Allan.
Marius Zaliukas, the Hearts captain, was handed a brief runout near the end so that he could wave goodbye to the travelling support. And what of Andy Webster, the Scotland defender? He will not be expected to remain with the Edinburgh club if they are banished to the First Division as punishment for their financial crisis.
That, of course, was the biggest question at Pittodrie yesterday. Was this Hearts’ last game in the Scottish Premier League until at least 2014/2015? Or will the SPL decide at their board meeting tomorrow that the Tynecastle club should keep their place in Scotland’s top flight on the basis that the insolvency process has yet to begin?
If it turns out that Hearts have been spared, at least they didn’t win here. Three points against Aberdeen would have meant a bigger total for the campaign and therefore a bigger deduction if they are asked to start next season with a handicap. This draw means that they would begin 15 points behind the rest.
Ryan Stevenson gave Hearts the lead just after the hour, but few would begrudge Aberdeen their equaliser. The home side, for whom Isaac Osbourne was also making his final appearance, enjoyed most of the possession, most of the chances and, but for Jamie MacDonald, the Hearts goalkeeper, would have enjoyed a victory too. “The only critical part was that we passed up so many opportunities,” said Derek McInnes, their manager.Gary Locke, his Hearts counterpart, made two changes to the side that had been so disappointing against Hibs six days earlier, drafting in young Dale Carrick and David Smith to either side of midfield, but the effect was negligible. Apart from a deflected cross by Jason Holt that Jamie Langfield turned round the post, it was Aberdeen who looked much the fresher, especially during a first half in which MacDonald, pictured, was outstanding.
Three times in that opening period, the Hearts goalkeeper was required to intervene, twice with the most startling reactions. When Jonny Hayes’ untidy cutback rolled to the feet of Niall McGinn, the striker’s fierce shot looked bound for the net until MacDonald somehow diverted it over with a graze of his glove. McGinn, who has signed a new deal that keeps him at Pittodrie until 2016, was as bright and positive as ever, but he wasn’t the only one testing the goalkeeper. MacDonald also had to be alive to a low drive by Cameron Smith, which he blocked in a busy penalty box. When Hayes had a swipe at the rebound, the ball was deflected off target.
McInnes is letting eight players leave Pittodrie this summer, but there are promising signs among those who remain. Smith, for instance, was causing plenty of bother just behind the striker, most notably when he swung a perfect ball between Hearts’ defence and goalkeeper. Josh Magennis slid in to make a timely connection, but MacDonald’s faint touch limited the damage to a corner.
Smith was at it again early in the second half, this time after a cross by Nicky Low. The ball came to him at an awkward height, but he had a cut at it, forcing MacDonald to stretch out an arm and save once more.
If that was disappointing for Aberdeen, worse was to follow. Within a few seconds, Hearts had won themselves a corner, which Smith curled hopefully into the box. Ryan Stevenson rose almost unchallenged to find the net with his team’s first proper attempt on goal.McInnes quickly withdrew Cameron Smith in favour of Declan McManus, a decision that proved to be wise. As a demoralised Aberdeen came to terms with the setback, it was the substitute who looked most likely to respond. First came a header over the top after Joe Shaughnessy’s cross, then the goal that his team deserved all along. When Hayes played across the six-yard area a ball that was almost impossible to defend, Jamie Hamill, the Hearts full-back, tried to get there before the advancing McManus, but succeeded only in forcing it over the line.
Aberdeen (4-2-3-1): Langfield; Shaughnessy, Osbourne, Reynolds, Robertson; Rae (Masson 85), Low; Hayes, Smith (McManus 64), McGinn; Magennis (Vernon 72). Subs: Twardzik, Hughes, Murray, Storie.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; Hamill, McGowan, Webster, McHattie; Holt, Stevenson (Zaliukas 83); Carrick (Walker 75), Taouil, D Smith; Ngoo (Sutton 87). Subs: Ridgers, McKay, B King, McGhee.