FEW goalless draws will be as entertaining as this one, although that offers Hearts little consolation.
Gary Locke argued that his team should have won three vital points in their fight against relegation because Dylan McGowan’s first-half effort should have stood. He had a point, if you’ll pardon the pun.
McGowan was well into his celebration in front of the Wheatfield Stand in the 37th minute when his “goal” was disallowed. Having converted Callum Paterson’s monstrous long throw-in, he was stopped in his tracks by the flag of assistant referee Francis Andrews. The official judged that the Dundee United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak had been pushed by Jason Holt and referee Steven McLean went with the call.
Locke was incandescent with rage at full-time after video replays proved the decision was questionable. McLean was awarding the goal until he spotted Andrews’ flag and decided not to go against his assistant.
It is worth noting that the same referee felt strong enough to overrule another assistant, Graham McNeillie, on the opening weekend of the season when Hearts lost to St Johnstone. That day, McLean allowed Stevie May’s goal to stand despite McNeillie’s flag signalling that he believed David Wotherspoon had touched the ball from an offside position in front of goal. Being on the wrong end of decisions could have fatal consequences for Hearts, who started the season minus 15 points after entering administration. They are now on minus seven, which might have been minus five.
“I felt we should have taken all three points,” said Locke. “I’ve seen the goal on the laptop and it’s a goal. It’s another sore one to take because it’s another big decision that’s gone against us.
“The linesman disallowed the goal. I had a word at half-time and he said there was a push. Unfortunately we’ve just got to accept that and move on. From where I was it looked like the keeper just misjudged the throw, and having seen the incident again, that’s certainly the case.
“We’ve had a couple of bad decisions against us, we’ve got to get on with it. We can’t let it affect us. The players are giving us everything, I’m just hoping our luck can change. It was important not to lose after three [league] defeats in a row; important to stop the rot but it should’ve been three points instead of one.”
Hearts and United more than played their part in an enthralling match involving many promising young Scots. The visitors had Ryan Gauld, Stuart Armstrong, Andrew Robertson and Jon Souttar amongst their best player while Gary Mackay-Steven climbed off the bench in the second half to make his return from injury.
In the home ranks, Jason Holt, Jamie Walker, Callum Paterson, Danny Wilson and Kevin McHattie were just some of the main protagonists. No-one outshone 17-year-old Jordan McGhee, though. He played right-back and, after an early wobble, looked a genuine star in the making. Ryan Stevenson returned from a torn medial ligament as a substitute after the interval.
“It was great to have Ryan back, it gave everyone a lift. He’s a really important player for us and he’ll give everyone inside the dressing-room a lift,” continued Locke. “It’s great to see to many Scottish flags on the back of the programme. Dundee United have fantastic youngsters, like ourselves, so it looks like the future is bright for Scotland.”
United had an effort of their own disallowed when David Goodwillie was penalised for pushing. John Rankin’s first-half shot was spilled by Jamie MacDonald, however none of the visiting players were in place to capitalise on the loose ball.
At the opposite end in an end-to-end match, Cierzniak took to the air to push Jamie Hamill’s dangerous 25-yard strike over the bar. From the resultant corner, Wilson headed over.
The most prominent player in the second half was United’s Nadir Ciftci. The Turk dispatched a 20-yard drive which was beaten away by MacDonald. The same player tried again on 65 minutes, only to be denied by Hamill’s crucial block almost on the Hearts goal line.
“I was disappointed with the final bit of play in our game,” admitted Jackie McNamara, the United manager. “We were breaking four on two and our decision-making and passing was slack at times. I thought we could have got the three points.
“The game was everything I thought it would be, especially in the first half. There was a lot of fight and a lot of energy about Hearts and, with the crowd, they got on top of things. They would cheer a throw-in or a corner and that was the danger for us – throw-ins and corners.
“It was important for us to pass the ball properly and use it in the correct way in the last third. It was there for us to cause them problems and, when we passed it, we looked like we were going to score.
“The game was a bit stop-start but again it was a great atmosphere. I wished I was playing myself because I loved playing at Tynecastle. It can be intimidating at times but you could see the importance of passing the ball. I thought we did that well for the first half-hour.
“A clean sheet is a positive for us.”