Hearts limbered up for their Europa League play-off tie against English giants Tottenham Hotspur with a comfortable dismantling of Aberdeen as they secured their first SPL victory of the season.
It was an enitrely deserved victory for Paulo Sergio’s charges, who showed their clinical side in the final third, whereas the visitors were unable to capitalise on their opportunities. Striker John Sutton looked particularly impressive in what was his finest display so far in a maroon shirt since joining from Motherwell in the summer.
Backed by a boisterous travelling support in the Roseburn Stand, it was Aberdeen who threatened first. Kari Arnason, a summer trialist at Hearts, headed Robert Milsom’s corner goalwards and was thwarted only when Marian Kello’s fingertips diverted the ball against the crossbar.
Arnason’s 21st-minute drive rolled wide of goal and, at that juncture, Aberdeen looked most likely to score first. Enter Lithuanian winger Arvydas Novikovas.
When Danny Grainger’s left-sided cross skimmed the head of Youl Mawene, the tricky baby-faced assassin collected the bouncing ball and promptly curled it low into the right corner of David Gonzalez’s net. In doing so, he vindicated manager Sergio’s decision to grant him a starting role ahead of Andy Driver.
Headers from Scott Vernon and Darren Mackie were off target as Aberdeen strove to restore parity. However, they soon found themselves facing a two-goal deficit as another winger made a telling contribution. Receiving the ball from Ryan Stevenson on the edge of the Aberdeen penalty area, David Templeton sprinted past Rory McArdle to roll a low cross in front of Sutton, who merely had to tap into an empty net from three yards.
The visitors made a switch at half-time with Darren Mackie making way for Peter Pawlett. The change did little to revitalise the visitors as Sutton scored his second and Hearts’ third seven minutes into the second half.
Aberdeen failed to clear decisively from the edge of their own penalty area and Scott Robinson managed to prod the ball through for Sutton, whose calm flick eluded Gonzalez. That ended the game as a contest, although Fraser Fyvie ought to have at least tested Kello minutes later when Hearts allowed him a free shot inside their penalty area. Instead, he dragged the ball wide.
The final stages approached with Hearts looking relaxed but determined to protect their clean sheet. After Rudi Skacel’s volley was held by Gonzalez, there was the welcome introduction of another Riccarton youth academy product as teenager Kevin McHattie made his first-team debut by replacing Stevenson.
He would remember this day for a long time, as Hearts warmed up in style for the visit of Spurs.
Hearts: Kello, Hamill, Grainger, Jonsson, Mrowiec, Zaliukas, Novikovas, Robinson, Sutton, Stevenson, Templeton.