IT was supposed to be all about Rudi Skacel but Ryan Stevenson ensured that the headlines wouldn’t be dominated by his old team-mate.
SCORERS: Hearts: Stevenson (15, 30). Dundee Utd: Watson (57)
BOOKINGS: Hearts: McGowan (56, challenge on Gunning). Dundee Utd: Douglas (90, foul on Stevenson), Lacny (88, challenge on Novikovas), Russell (44,
challenge on Webster).
REFEREE: C Thomson
The former Hearts player returned to his old stomping ground for the first time since signing for Dundee United and the Tynecastle supporters gave him a hero’s welcome.
They cheered his name before the game had started and in the 51st minute – the number Skacel wears on his United shirt in tribute to the Jambos’ Scottish Cup win over Hibs in May – they launched into a 60-second ovation for the Czech.
The fact that they were already winning 2-0 by that point probably helped lubricate their vocal cords though.
Stevenson had only hit one goal in Hearts’ previous matches this season so he was delighted to get back on the scoresheet and is hoping to see more over the busy festive period.
The former Ayr United player said: “I think it had been well documented that I had gone a wee while without scoring since coming back to the club. Hopefully this can be a little purple patch for me now.
“Obviously it is a big part of my game and it is nice for me to be able to help the team out. When I play in midfield I feel that is my best position to come on to chances and when I was at Ayr that was what I did.
“I am enjoying where I am playing and it is good to have John (Sutton) and Gordon (Smith) supplying you. I know that they are both going to create me chances so, on a personal note, it is pleasing to be back in among the goals.
“The biggest thing was getting the three points though, because we are going into a difficult period, so hopefully we can use this as a springboard for the next two or three games.”
The weather conditions were atrocious for both sides at Tynecastle, the wind whipping around the ground and bringing sporadic rain with it.
From the off, Gordon Smith looked as though he could cause United problems running at both Gavin Gunning and Brian McLean and, on occasion, racing down the right channel.
There were shouts for a penalty kick from Hearts fans with 14 minutes gone after a challenge by former Tynie hero Skacel on Stevenson, but referee Craig Thomson ignored the roars from the stands.
However, Hearts opened the scoring just seconds later when Sutton persevered against McLean in front of goal and, although he couldn’t get a shot in himself, managed to deflect the ball into the path of Stevenson who slotted the ball home.
It was the Hearts winger’s second goal in just over a fortnight, but United came close to cancelling it out within the space of just a couple of minutes when McLean’s effort came crashing back off the post from just a couple of yards out.
Hearts could have doubled their advantage in 22 minutes when a Dundee United free-kick was cleared and found its way to Smith. The youngster showed good vision, releasing Andrew Driver to his left and the winger raced into the area, only to see his angled drive blocked.
United sent a few shivers down Hearts spines when Barry Douglas’s dipping effort was just inches away from beating MacDonald at his far corner.
Hearts were awarded a penalty just before the half-hour when Willo Flood tugged Dylan McGowan inside the box.
Up stepped Stevenson, who slotted home yet again, beating Radoslaw Cierzniak at his right-hand side.
When the clock hit the 51st minute the Hearts supporters chanted, cheered and clapped to acknowledge the contribution made by Skacel over his two spells with the Gorgie club and he signalled his appreciation of the gesture with a wave of his hand.
The United supporters were unhappy with that, but within five minutes they were the ones celebrating when their team pulled one back, Skacel missing the initial effort but Keith Watson lashing the ball into the net from an angle.
The United goalscorer admitted that he had never played in a game where an opposition player has received such adulation from those in the home stands. He said: “In the 51st minute the place erupted. He is a Hearts legend, he won the Scottish Cup with them and he is loved at the club.
“I can understand why our fans were not happy. Obviously he is a Dundee United player now and I think that he is fully committed to us.
“He got his first goal for us last week and he is getting fitter and fitter. I think he will only get better for us.”
The Jambos could have made life easier on themselves when Kevin McHattie’s ball in from the left was met by the foot of Andy Webster, but the defender’s effort was right down the throat of Cierzniak.
They certainly should have made sure of the points five minutes later when Paterson laid it on a plate for Andrew Driver but he couldn’t connect for a diving header that would almost certainly have brought a goal.
Paterson was next. He had only been on the park for a matter of minutes and his swerving left-foot shot was hit with such power that it knocked the wind from Cierzniak when he blocked it.
In stoppage time, Johnny Russell could have snatched a point for United, only to send his shot high over MacDonald’s bar.
Of his late strike, Watson conceded that it had not proved to be much of a consolation and he added: “Scoring a goal doesn’t really matter because we didn’t take anything from the game.
“We lost two sloppy goals and it just wasn’t good enough. We’re really disappointed. We left ourselves too much to do.”