JAMIE HAMILL and Dale Carrick scored the goals to secure a third win in four games for Hearts, however Hamill’s red card means he will now miss next week’s Edinburgh derby.
The midfielder received a second caution after colliding with the Ross County manager Derek Adams in the aftermath of his 65th-minute penalty and is automatically suspended for next week’s visit to Easter Road.
That was the only negative on a day when Hearts continued the momentum built before the league split. After an even first half, Hamill’s penalty following Graham Carey’s foul on Kevin McHattie was the catalyst for victory. Carrick produced a second in stoppage time to increase the pressure on Ross County as they fight to avoid the relegation play-off place.
There was a positive atmosphere around Tynecastle as this match kicked off, for home supporters were in celebratory mood despite being consigned to relegation. The midweek news that Hearts’ administrators BDO have secured almost 80 per cent of the club’s shares from Lithuanian companies Ukio Bankas and Ukio Bankas Investment Group (UBIG) was a major source of relief for all concerned.
Around 750 County fans arrived on free coaches laid on by their club. The buses collected cash donations which will be passed on to Foundation of Hearts in a gesture of kindness by the Highlanders.
The match began in open fashion with both teams in attack mode. Two Ryan Stevenson shots at the Ross County goal didn’t quite test the visiting goalkeeper, Mark Brown, whilst Jamie MacDonald collected tame efforts from Jordan Slew and Filip Kiss at the opposite end.
Hearts appealed for a penalty on 19 minutes when Sam Nicholson was chased into the box and fell near the goal line under pressure from Carey. Play continued to fluctuate and, shortly after the half-hour, MacDonald took two attempts to deal with an awkward bouncing effort by Kiss from 20 yards.
There was another attempt by Carey as half-time approached but most of the shots at goal had been from distance in a first half which threatened to spark to life but never actually did.
Richard Brittain tested MacDonald minutes after the restart with a 25-yard free-kick. Carey prodded a shot over the Hearts crossbar after exchanging passes with Kiss as County began to threaten more seriously.
Perhaps sensing that the visitors had seized the initiative, Hearts manager Gary Locke introduced Jamie Walker in place of Stevenson. The winger was playing his first competitive match in three months following a broken metatarsal and within minutes the hosts almost scored. Nicholson and Billy King linked cleverly in the final third but Nicholson’s eventual shot was blocked by a superbly timed Yann Songo’o tackle.
That was merely a prelude to a far more contentious moment minutes later. McHattie was fouled just inside the penalty area by Carey and Hamill lashed the resultant spot-kick high beyond Brown to open the scoring. He then grabbed the ball and carried it with him down the touchline in an attempt to waste time.
Hamill was pursued by Songo’o before releasing the ball as he arrived at the away dugout. He then foolishly ran into Adams, who fell to the ground theatrically and sealed the Hearts player’s fate in doing so. After referee Willie Collum had intervened amongst players whose tempers were fraying, he issued Hamill a second yellow and then a red card and also booked Songo’o.
Substitute Scott Robinson rasped the ball against Brown’s shins as Hearts pursued a second goal to kill this match. The final stages included some meaty challenges which referee Collum chose to ignore, and there was a late header from Slew which might have produced an equaliser.
Then came the breakaway which resulted in Robinson teeing up Carrick for a classy late finish high into the net - thus securing ten points from the last 12 for Hearts.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; Paterson, McKay, McGowan, McHattie; Hamill, Holt; King (Robinson 68), Stevenson (Walker 59), Nicholson (Smith 77); Carrick. Subs: Ridgers, Beith, Oliver, McGhee, Beith.
Ross County (4-4-1-1): Brown; Cikos, Songo’o (McLean 84), Boyd, Oikonomou; Quinn (Saunders 84), Brittain, Tidser (Cooper 77), Carey; Kiss; Slew. Subs: Fraser, Gordon, Kettlewell, MacLeod, McLean.
Referee: Willie Collum.
Scorers: Hearts - Hamill 65 pen, Carrick 90.