HEARTS’ final pre-season friendly ended in defeat against English Premier League opposition as Everton’s Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick at Tynecastle.
The Belgian converted two penalties either side of a low finish in a game largely controlled by the visitors.
The opening goal was scored by Hearts defender Callum Paterson on nine minutes, but the home side found their attacks limited thereafter. Everton begin their league campaign in less than two weeks and looked the better team by some distance with an impressive repertoire of short and long passing. Hearts’ competitive season starts on Thursday against Arbroath in the League Cup but they were without some influential figures.
Miguel Pallardo, Prince Buaben, Juanma and Blazej Augustyn sat in the stand as head coach Robbie Neilson tried out a new formation. He used an unorthodox 3-4-2-1 system, deploying Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker in roaming roles behind lone striker Osman Sow. A back three of captain Alim Ozturk, Jordan McGhee and new signing Igor Rossi protected goalkeeper Neil Alexander, while Paterson and Kevin McHattie got forward as wing-backs.
Those two combined to open the scoring on nine minutes. Paterson used his considerable frame to rise powerfully and head McHattie’s corner into the net at the back post. Until that stage, Everton had started the better side as household names like Lukaku, Leighton Baines and Gareth Barry passed their way through the home side.
Nine minutes later, the scores were level as Lukaku confidently stroked home a penalty. Alexander produced a fine save to stop the Belgian’s header but referee Willie Collum ruled that Ozturk handled Barry’s follow-up shot. The Turk protested strongly that the ball hit his chest, however, Lukaku didn’t wait around to argue.
Leon Osman placed a free header wide of target from Baines’ corner on the half-hour. Everton were controlling much of the play and forcing the new-look Hearts defence to retreat. They moved ahead ten minutes from the break when a swift passing move saw Kevin Mirallas feed Seamus Coleman for a low cutback which Lukaku dispatched low into Alexander’s net with a first-time shot.
Another attack on 43 minutes was helped by a mistimed slide tackle by Rossi. Lukaku seized on the loose ball and teed up Mirallas for a clipped finish over Alexander, although the ball bounced narrowly wide. Hearts broke forward for Walker to test Tim Howard from 25 yards but the home players looked relieved when the half-time whistle sounded.
The defensive shape left Neilson’s team looking disjointed for much of the first period and it was no surprise he changed to a flat back four for the second half. Everton continued to look a class apart, though, and won another penalty on 48 minutes when McHattie tripped Mirallas inside the area. Lukaku gratefully completed his hat-trick from the spot in front of the 1202 travelling fans in the Roseburn Stand.
Alexander’s one-handed diving save prevented Lukaku’s fourth on 56 minutes, and the keeper denied the same player again with an instinctive parry 15 minutes later. There was also an incisive run by substitute Tom Cleverley, who exchanged passes with Steven Naismith before rattling a high attempt into the side netting.
A late attack at the opposite end saw Hearts sub Billy King sting Howard’s palms before Nicholson sent the rebound over the crossbar.
Last-gasp defensive tackles and blocks were becoming the order of the day for the home team as the match entered its closing stages. Everton continued passing the ball around, leaving those in maroon to do the chasing until the final whistle.
Hearts (3-4-2-1): Alexander (Hamilton 77); Ozturk (King 46), McGhee, Rossi (L Smith 69); Paterson, McKirdy (Buchanan 78), Gomis (Anderson 67), McHattie; Walker (Oliver 78), Nicholson; Sow (Reilly 65).
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines (Oviedo 64); McCarthy (Cleverley 46), Barry; Mirallas (Dowell 83), Kone (Barkley 78), Osman; Lukaku (Naismith 78). Subs: Robles, Browning, Pennington, McAleny, Ledson, Robinson.
Referee: Willie Collum.