Sugar-coating Hearts’ last two results is pointless. One point from six against Kilmarnock and Inverness isn’t form that will earn you second place in Scotland.
That said, the Tynecastle players’ character and desire were rightly questioned after losing 2-0 at Rugby Park last Wednesday. Both commodities were there in abundance in the Highlands.
An exhilarating 3-3 draw saw Hearts overhaul a 2-0 deficit to 2-2, and then recover from 3-2 down to secure a point. They may be on the way to solving their goalscoring problem, if at the same time creating another one with some erratic defending. There were certainly positives and negatives to take back to Edinburgh.
Ultimately, this was another opportunity missed. Aberdeen’s lunchtime loss to Celtic and St Johnstone’s home defeat by Partick Thistle meant Hearts would have climbed to second in the Ladbrokes Premiership had they won. As it was, they moved up from fourth to third. Beating Inverness is no easy task now. Since losing 5-1 in Gorgie on August 20, Richie Foran’s side have suffered just one defeat – to Rangers – in nine games. They entered this one following a resounding 3-0 win at Motherwell last Wednesday.
Foran has instilled solidity and organisation as well as more of a goal threat. His team were 2-0 up through substitute David Raven and striker Lonsana Doumbouya and coasting towards half-time. Had they reached the interval without conceding, the hosts would surely have gone on to win. Bjorn Johnsen’s prodded finish to reduce the deficit on 38 minutes imbued Hearts with some much-needed belief.
Faycal Rherras’ hoisted cross from 35 yards out on the left bounced all the way into the net to level the scoreline after the break. Aaron Doran quickly restored Inverness’ lead before Arnaud Djoum completed the scoring at 3-3.
“It was a cross and a shot,” smiled Rherras when asked about his first goal in Scotland. “In the last two years, I have scored two goals like this. A cross like this is difficult for the keeper because he does not know if he comes out or stays in goal.”
Johnsen challenged for Rherras’ cross with Cammy Mackay, the Inverness reserve goalkeeper drafted in after Owain Fon Williams pulled out of the warm-up with a back spasm. The American quickly informed the Moroccan full-back it was his goal. “Afterwards, Bjorn came to me and said: ‘You scored, you scored,” said Rherras.
“I am happy for me and happy for the team that I scored. We lost the last game against Kilmarnock. This is not a bad result but it is not good. In football, you never give up. At 1-0 and 2-0, we came back to 2-2. Then we came back from 3-2 to 3-3. It shows heart and that was important for us to get a point. Now we have to concentrate on the next game against St Johnstone.”
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson started Johnsen and Robbie Muirhead up front together and left out Tony Watt and Conor Sammon. The aim was clear: Get more goals. Four years had passed since Hearts last bulged the rigging at the Caledonian Stadium. Johnsen looks a reasonable threat due to his size and pace and now has two goals in his last three appearances. Indeed, he and Watt may be the best long-term combination for Hearts.
“One of the goals was a from defender, Bjorn getting a goal was good and Arnaud scoring was good. We’re getting there,” said Neilson. “We’re creating chances and probably could’ve scored more. It was the other side of it that was disappointing.
“It’s vital for us all to get three goals. We’ve been working and been really good defensively but not been scoring goals. Then we’ve been scoring but not been good defensively. We need to try and bring it all together but we have a good group here who are working hard.
“The positive is that we went 2-0 down but got ourselves back in the game. We played really good football and possibly could’ve gone on and won the game. The negative is that we’ve scored three goals in Inverness but only left with a point.
“There were periods in the first half when we were really good, and then periods when we were really bad. In the second half, we were good for the majority of it. It’s a learning curve for us. We tried to pass the ball about and got caught on the counter-attack a couple of times. That’s disappointing.
“The comparison between Inverness at Tynecastle and then on Saturday was night and day. They’ve progressed really well.”
That was a point well made. Brad McKay’s arrival has added stability to the Inverness defence to the extent that Raven has been left on the bench recently. He came on for the injured Carl Tremarco after ten minutes and volleyed the hosts ahead moments later.
In attack, Doumbouya is a tall, lanky forward who moves well off the ball to create space. He hit the top of Jack Hamilton’s crossbar before the deadlock was broken and then finished confidently to score his team’s second goal. Behind him, Liam Polworth, Doran and Ross Draper were a constant danger.
Foran stressed Caledonian Thistle will continue to progress if they maintain their consistency. “I thought we bossed it and played some terrific football at times. Our link-up play was excellent and we got runners off the ball,” he said. “A couple of mistakes cost us a couple of goals, like Josh [Meekings] slipping for the first one. Overall I’m delighted with the performance. I thought it was actually better than Wednesday night. If we keep playing like that, we’ll win most games.”