Don Cowie inspired Hearts to a rampant victory as captain for the day against his former club Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The former Scotland midfielder claimed two goals and two assists in the Tynecastle club’s first league win of the new campaign – which included a long-awaited debut for American striker Bjorn Johnsen.
Conor Sammon headed the second goal after Cowie’s well-executed opener with his left foot. The 2-0 half-time advantage put the hosts in control, and Cowie struck again two minutes into the second half to put the result beyond any doubt. A late double by Sam Nicholson merely emphasised Hearts’ dominance before Callum Paterson’s own goal gave Inverness a consolation.
There were plenty standouts in maroon on a damp afternoon, Sammon, Igor Rossi, Perry Kitchen and Arnaud Djoum and Nicholson amongst them. However, the day belonged to Cowie, who was imperious from start to finish in central midfield. Some clinical finishing and crisp passing moves were the theme of this convincing win.
Pre-match news that FIFA had cleared Johnsen’s transfer saw the Hearts support arrive at Tynecastle in anticipation. The American striker started on the substitutes’ bench having waited a full month to have his move ratified because Bulgarian club CSKA Sofia claimed he had a contract with them.
Midfielder Perry Kitchen also made his first domestic start of the campaign for Hearts after injury, whilst Inverness had to do without winger Billy King. It was agreed as part of his loan move that he wouldn’t play against his parent club. The exciting and pacey Jake Mulraney took his place.
The visitors found themselves up against it after conceding the opening goal just seven minutes in. They at least had the consolation of knowing Hearts had constructed a fine passing move to open them up.
A long-range pass from defence by John Souttar was cleverly left by Cowie and reached Sammon 20 yards from goal. He slipped a pass to Cowie, who had sprinted forward to link up with his attack. The midfielder then steered a precise left-footed shot into the corner of the net.
Owain Fon Williams in the Inverness goal prevented a certain second minutes later, using his legs to stop Tony Watt’s attempt. The keeper was beaten again on 18 minutes, though, as Hearts affirmed their superiority. Cowie’s cross from the right was met by Sammon for a looping header into the net, and Hearts cruised at 2-0 through to the interval.
They had to contend with some robust Inverness challenges which often went unpunished by referee Steven McLean. That prompted some heated exchanges in the technical area as both sides complained to Euan Anderson, the fourth official.
Hearts wasted no time in killing this game dead after half-time. They did so with another display of entertaining, attacking football. Watt drove forward in possession and played a through pass to Sammon, who laid the ball off first time towards the advancing Cowie. From 20 yards, he angled a right-footed shot beyond Fon Williams and into the net to give the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Jack Hamilton wasn’t totally inactive, however. The goalkeeper had to be alert to push away a netbound overhead kick by the Inverness substitute Alex Fisher from David Raven’s deflected cross. As the rain poured down in Gorgie, passes began to go astray on the wet surface.
Mulraney was forced off on a stretcher after the hour mark following a heavy tackle. Aaron Doran took his place before Hamilton collected Iain Vigurs’ shot at goal from the resultant free-kick. It was one of precious few threats by the Highlanders, who by then looked soundly beaten.
Johnsen replaced Sammon with 16 minutes remaining and made an instant impact. From Djoum’s pass, he played a delightful backheel through for Nicholson to run in behind the Inverness defence. The winger’s first-time finish flew into the back of the net.
Even at 4-0, Hearts weren’t finished. Cowie stroked another perfect through ball on an angle towards Nicholson, who had again scampered inside from the left flank. This time Fon Williams got a hand to the winger’s finish but it still crossed the line via the inside of the post.
Inverness forced a consolation goal to make the final score 5-1. A cross from the right fell to midfielder Ross Draper, whose shot was blocked by Paterson almost on his goal line. The grounded defender then tried to prod the ball away but succeeded only in putting it into his own net.
Djoum struck Fon Williams’ right post in stoppage-time and Paterson’s follow-up attempt was well blocked by Carl Tremarco. No-one amongst the home support would have been too disappointed to finish with a 5-1 victory, though.
Hearts (4-4-2): Hamilton; Paterson, Souttar, Rossi, Rherras; Djoum, Cowie (Muirhead 80), Kitchen (Buaben 70), Nicholson; Sammon (Johnsen 74), Watt. Unused subs: Noring, Ozturk, Nowak, Muirhead, L Smith.
Inverness CT (4-2-3-1): Fon Williams; Raven (Horner 59), Warren, Meekings, Tremarco; Draper, Tansey; Mulraney (Doran 64), Vigurs, Polworth; Boden (Fisher 53). Unused subs: Esson, Brown.
Referee: Steven McLean.