FOR the second time this season, Hearts succumbed to a Billy McKay double as the predatory Northern Irishman ensured Inverness took all three points from a wet and windy Tynecastle. Having scored twice against Hearts in the Highlands in August, McKay repeated the feat in Edinburgh in a keenly contested game.
Inverness had survived a period of intense pressure early in the second half before McKay struck the opening goal. His second seven minutes from time was another sublime finish and ensured another defeat for a young and dispirited looking Hearts side.
The hosts granted a first senior start to 18-year-old winger Sam Nicholson and a first league start to striker Gary Oliver, also 18. They were two of 16 players in manager Gary Locke’s 18-man squad who came through the club’s youth academy. With driving rain and a blustery wind at Tynecastle, they were guaranteed to experience the stereotypical traits of a Scottish league match.
Much of the first half was fairly even as many players quickly resorted to high balls in the dreadul conditions. The best chances were likely to come from crosses, and in that respect full-backs in both teams were excelling. Hearts’ right-back Jamie Hamill delivered two tantalising balls into the Inverness area, whilst the Inverness left-back Carl Tremarco did likewise into the Hearts box. From one of Tremarco’s crosses, Marley Watkins forced a low save from Jamie MacDonald on 34 minutes.
As the interval approached, Hamill shot straight at the Inverness goalkeeper Dean Brill after Kevin McHattie’s free-kick struck the wall. Nicholson and Oliver had been two of Hearts’ liveliest players in the first half, Nicholson in particular displaying some excellent close ball control. Inverness were well served by Tremarco and Graeme Shinnie, the latter playing out of position at right-back.
In the dying seconds of first-half stoppage time, MacDonald took to the air to tip a rising shot from Aaron Doran to safety. It was an impressive stop at an important juncture in the game, as Inverness would have been buoyed for the second half had they taken the lead.
A Danny Wilson header sailed over the Inverness crossbar shortly after play resumed, whilst substitute David Smith - on for the injured Jamie Walker - curled a low free-kick wide. Hearts at this stage were much more assertive as they pressed into the visitors’ half of the field looking to seize the initiative. Then came the sucker-punch on the hour mark.
After Scott Robinson was dispossessed in midfield, Watkins slipped a pass left through to McKay. He duped Hamill into making a sliding challenge before cutting inside to angle a driven finish low into the far corner of the net. It was the Northern Irishman’s 14th goal of the season, and he milked the acclaim from the small travelling support high up in the Roseburn Stand.
McKay volleyed Watkins’ cross off a post on 70 minutes as he came mercilessly close to doubling the Inverness advantage. The Hearts defence were finding themselves under pressure, sometimes as a consequence of their own decision-making. At the opposite end, Callum Tapping drove through a collection of bodies to shoot at Brill’s goal in the 77th minute, but his attempt was deflected wide.
Seven minutes from full-time, McKay sealed the points for Inverness in devastating fashion. From another through ball by the outstanding Watkins, he sent a left-footed finish beyond MacDonald from around 18 yards. That ended any prospect of a Hearts comeback.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; Hamill, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; Nicholson (B King 66), Tapping, Robinson, Walker (Smith 46); Paterson, Oliver (Carrick 71). Subs: Hamilton, McKay, A King, McGhee.
Inverness (4-2-3-1): Brill; Shinnie, Warren, Meekings, Tremarco; Draper, Foran; Doran (Agdestein 86), Ross, Watkins (Williams 90); McKay. Subs: Esson, Raven, Devine, Greenhalgh, Polworth.
Referee: Brian Colvin.