SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD Jordan McGhee was the hero as ten-man Hearts secured a crucial victory over Aberdeen at Tynecastle.
Scorers: Hearts - Walker 17, McGhee 87; Aberdeen - McGinn 71 pen
Kevin McHattie was ordered off in the second half, with both the Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes and the Hearts assistant Billy Brown sent to the stand. However, that is unlikely to detract from McGhee’s joy.
After replacing the injured Brad McKay, he rose unchallenged to head the winning goal three minutes from full-time to take Hearts from minus 11 points to minus eight. Aberdeen had arrived in the capital in resurgent form under McInnes but left frustrated at the end of a dramatic game.
Jamie Walker opened the scoring in the first half but McHattie was penalised for fouling Calvin Zola and Niall McGinn equalised from the penalty spot after the interval. The match looked destined for a draw until McGhee found himself well placed for a decisive header which secured three vital points for his club. Thereafter came an altercation between McInnes and Brown which saw both men ordered away from the technical area.
Early headers bounced wide from Dylan McGowan and Mark Reynolds at opposite ends before poor control let Scott Vernon down as he fastened on to McGinn’s lofted ball in behind the Hearts defence. Aberdeen were pressing forward at that stage, but Hearts broke away to score with an incisive attack.
Jason Holt stroked the ball out to Walker on the left, who advanced 20 yards into a shooting position and fired low past Nicky Weaver for his second goal in as many games.
Vernon scampered in behind the home rearguard again moments later but guided his shot wide of target. His movement across the back line was causing consternation amongst Hearts’ defenders. Robertson headed McGinn’s cross wide following a short corner as the visitors continued to fashion decent openings.
Aberdeen had a reasonable penalty claim ignored six minutes from the interval when McKay appeared to climb over Vernon in an aerial challenge. The travelling support of almost 3000 people appealed but referee Alan Muir allowed play to continue. The half-time whistle sounded with McInnes’ team in the ascendancy and Hearts relieved not to have conceded.
Walker’s driven shot early in the second period struck the legs of Weaver after the winger received McHattie’s throw and turned sprightly away from his marker, Joe Shaughnessy. Then, at the opposite end, Aberdeen substitute Zola glanced Johnny Hayes’ right-sided cross wide of target.
McKay departed with a head knock to be replaced by McGhee, and moments later Hearts had to reorganise further in defence when McHattie was ordered off. He challenged Zola from behind inside the penalty box and played the ball but was judged to have impeded the striker first. Consequently, he received a straight red card for denying a clear scoring opportunity.
From the resultant penalty, McGinn confidently stroked an equaliser which was deserved on the balance of play. It was Aberdeen’s first goal at Tynecastle in over three and a half years since January 2010. However, the Hearts manager Gary Locke continued to protest to both the assistant referee and fourth official about the decision.
Peter Pawlett was cautioned for diving when challenged by Walker in an incident which looked at first glance like it might have produced another penalty. With five minutes left, McGinn’s header from substitute Gregg Wylde’s cross flew inches over Jamie MacDonald’s crossbar.
Then came a dramatic winner with just three minutes left. A hopeful free-kick was lofted into the Aberdeen penalty box by Callum Tapping. As Weaver and his defence missed it, McGhee found himself free at the back post for an unchallenged header into an empty net.
That sparked wild scenes of celebration but also a flashpoint in the technical area as Brown and McInnes became embroiled in pushing and shoving. A police officer stepped in and both were sent to the stand.
Still the excitement wasn’t over. MacDonald saved a bulleted header from the Aberdeen substitute Josh Magennis before Callum Paterson appeared to wrestle Zola to the ground. No penalty was given and, after five minutes of stoppage-time, Hearts had secured three priceless points in their fight against relegation.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; McGowan, McKay (McGhee 62), Wilson, McHattie; Hamill, Robinson; Walker (Smith 76), Holt, B King (Tapping 72); Paterson. Subs: Ridgers, Oliver, Nicholson, A King.
Aberdeen (4-4-2): Weaver; Shaughnessy, Hector, Reynolds, Robertson (Wylde 74); Hayes, Flood, Jack, Pawlett (Magennis 83); McGinn, Vernon (Zola 53). Subs: Rogers, Considine, Anderson, Low.
Referee: Alan Muir.
Attendance: 15,218 .