HEARTS endured a fourth consecutive SPL match without scoring as Scott Robertson’s first-half header proved decisive at Tannadice. First-team players at Tynecastle remain without wages but produced a commanding performance, compromised only by the absence of creativity in attack.
Robertson converted Jon Daly’s cross after 23 minutes and United held out under mounting Hearts pressure as the game progressed. Much of the 90 minutes were played in the home side’s half with the visitors enjoying the majority of possession. Unfortunately, the final third was where they were found wanting.
Credit was due to United’s resilient defence, which included the former Hearts defender Robbie Neilson. He made his debut after signing a short-term contract till the end of the season and looked assured in his favoured right-back role.
John Sutton returned to the Hearts side for his first start since August 13, when he scored twice against Aberdeen. He was the subject of a penalty appeal on 15 minutes when he fell under pressure from Gavin Gunning inside the box, however referee Willie Collum remained impassive. Until then, the only moment of note had been David Templeton’s first-time shot which rolled wide.
Dundee United then opened the scoring just as Hearts appeared to be in the ascendency. John Russel’s midfield tackle produced a loping ball for Daly to pursue down the right flank. His precise cross was expertly met by the head of the diving Robertson eight yards from goal, and the ball sailed out of Marian Kello’s reach into the corner.
Rudi Skacel had a strike disallowed for offside moments later, prompting an angry response in the stand from Hearts manager Paulo Sergio. The first of his five-game touchline ban was not going as intended and that theme continued when Ryan McGowan’s left-footed cross was pushed to safety only by the fingertips of United’s goalkeeper Dusan Pernis.
As the interval approached, Skacel stung the palms of Pernis after a driving run through the centre of midfield. It was difficult to fathom why Hearts were not at least level with their hosts by half-time.
Pernis collected Templeton’s drive after the restart following some impressive footwork from the winger. The Slovakian then did likewise with a tame effort from Sutton, who endured some physical treatment from the home defence any time the ball entered his zone. Again penalty appeals emanated from the visitors when Sutton fell challenging for Ryan Stevenson’s cross, and again they were dismissed.
Daly believed he had doubled United’s advantage but was judged offside after Kello repelled Gary Mackay-Steven’s powerful drive. Still proceedings were being controlled largely by Hearts, however a vital equaliser remained elusive through to the final whistle.
Dundee Utd (4-3-3): Pernis; Neilson, Kenneth, Gunning, Dixon; Flood, Rankin, Robertson; Russel (Armstrong 88), Daly, Mackay-Steven (Douglas 80). Subs: Banks, Dillon, Watson, Dalla Vale, Dow.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Kello; Hamill (Novikovas 78), Webster, Zaliukas, McGowan; Mrowiec (Taouil 60), Jonsson; Skacel, Stevenson, Templeton; Sutton (S Elliott 78). Subs: MacDonald, G Smith, Robinson, Obua.
Referee: Willie Collum.