AFTER three consecutive defeats, Hearts finally got a result of some sort to show for their efforts after claiming a well-earned point from a typically tightly-contested match with fierce rivals Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
The hosts were the more threatening side for much of the match, but rarely created any clear-cut chances against a resilient visiting defence, in which John Souttar was particularly valiant. Hearts were a sporadic threat on the counter-attack, as the lively Tony Watt led the charge to pinch a winner. However, given the negativity that has erupted around Tynecastle in light of recent defeats, a draw at such a formidable venue provides head coach Robbie Neilson with some welcome relief as his side now prepare for a significantly more favourable run of fixtures than the three they have faced over the last week.
Hearts made three changes to the side that lost to St Johnstone in the Betfred Cup. Tony Watt and Sam Nicholson returned to the starting line-up after impressing from the bench in midweek, while Faycal Rherras came back in after a minor injury. Robbie Muirhead dropped to the bench, as did captain Alim Ozturk following his game-changing error in Perth. Jamie Walker served the first game of his well-documented suspension.
Aberdeen threatened first when Jayden Stockley headed a Peter Pawlett wide from close range in the third minute. Hearts were struggling to get going and the Dons went close again in the 13th minute when Niall McGinn waltzed dangerously into the box, but Souttar slid in superbly to deflect the Northern Irishman’s shot over the bar.
The visitors’ first chance came in 15 minutes when Callum Paterson fired a volley just past the far post after a free kick broke out to him on the right angle of the box.
After riding out an early Aberdeen storm, Hearts started to make their presence felt in an attacking sense and enjoyed a couple of pot-shots from distance that came to nothing. Souttar then headed a Sam Nicholson free-kick wide ten minutes before the break.
Hearts made two changes for the start of the second half, with Liam Smith and Perry Kitchen, back after a month out injured, replacing Rherras and Prince Buaben, who both looked to be sailing close to the wind after being booked late in the first half.
After a couple of scares early in the second half, Hearts carved out a decent opening for Watt in the 65th minute but Dons defender Anthony O’Connor did just enough to take the sting out of the striker’s effort and allowed goalkeeper Joe Lewis to clutch it as it looped up in the air. Don Cowie, wearing the captain’s armband, then pinged a shot over from 25 yards out after being teed up by Watt. Amid another flurry of Aberdeen half-chances, Watt then shot over from a promising position eight yards out with three minutes left.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Logan, Taylor, O’Connor, Reynolds, McGinn, Jack, Shinnie, Burns (McLean 59), Pawlett, Stockley (Rooney 59). Unused subs: Alexander, Considine, Storie, Wright, Storey.
Hearts: Hamilton, Paterson, Souttar, Rossi, Rherras (Smith 46), Djoum, Buaben (Kitchen 46), Cowie, Nicholson (Muirhead 71), Sammon, Watt. Unused subs: Noring, Ozturk, Nowak, Zanatta.
Ref: Kevin Clancy