INDICATIONS are the final weeks of the season could be rather arduous for Hearts supporters.
Aberdeen had top-six aspirations on the agenda in Craig Brown’s last home match in charge. They also had double goalscorer Niall McGinn. Their guests looked shorn of confidence, particularly in front of goal, and left the north east with something of a whimper.
After Ross County this weekend, five fairly meaningless bottom-six fixtures await Hearts. The possibility of another Edinburgh derby remains as Hibs are also in the lower regions of the SPL with just one league win this year. However, with only one victory away from home all season, Hearts’ own form should be their greatest concern. Ten of their 18-man matchday squad at the weekend are still eligible for under-21 football and there is little doubt youth is a telling factor in this season’s inconsistencies.
Jamie Hamill’s return after 12 months out with a ruptured cruciate ligament was the biggest positive from a fruitless trip to Pittodrie. He played the final 30 minutes as a substitute with an appetite lacking in some of his colleagues. Both teams created an equal number of scoring chances during the match, but McGinn was the difference, his second goal a genuine moment of quality.
The victory ended Aberdeen’s three-year sequence without so much as a goal against Hearts dating back to January 2010. In his first league match as manager, Gary Locke was left to lament chances passed up by Michael Ngoo and John Sutton.
“That was one of the positive things for us. We’re creating chances, but we can’t keep missing them,” he complained.
“I said that a couple of weeks ago – it’s kind of the story of our season. The chances we are getting, we aren’t putting in the net. Big Michael had a chance in the first two minutes of the game which was a great opportunity. If he scores, it’s a different game. That’s probably the difference between the teams because Aberdeen scored both their chances.”
Sutton was effective in the air, winning almost every header he challenged for against the Aberdeen centre-backs, Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds. However, the policy of using him as an aerial target reaped little reward for Hearts.
Locke praised Hamill for his effort after replacing Dylan McGowan at right-back. “I’m really pleased with Jamie. When he went on he showed an enthusiasm and a desire that we need at the moment. It’s a big plus for us to have him back.”
After Ngoo shot straight at the Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield, McGinn converted his first goal into an empty net on nine minutes following a piercing run by Jonny Hayes in behind the Hearts defence. Hayes gave 19-year-old Kevin McHattie a tormenting he won’t forget for a while throughout the afternoon.
Sutton had a header saved and watched a left-footed flick bounce off Langfield’s left post in the first half. Aberdeen always looked the more threatening due to the numbers they had pouring forward to join attacks. Early in the second half, McGinn evaded three opponents on the left and angled his second beyond Jamie MacDonald via a deflection.
Danny Wilson’s shot from close range was blocked by Hayes on his own goal-line following a corner. It was further evidence that this was not to be Hearts’ day and the afternoon finished with warm applause for Brown. The veteran manager is preparing to move into a director’s role at Pittodrie with Derek McInnes due to take charge.
“I think I’ve left him with the signing of the season,” he said in reference to 19-goal McGinn.
“I’m not an emotional guy, but it was nice getting applause as you walk down the track. When you walk down there, I have heard it the other way, but nothing bad. They always applaud the Aberdeen manager up the track at the start of the game and I always acknowledge it.
“But going back at half-time, if you’re not winning, it’s ‘get it sorted oot, Broon’. The support to me since I have been here has been fantastic.
“I’m pleased that the folks went away happy. We have played better than that this season and we have had I don’t know how many 0-0 draws. In many of these games we were far more accomplished than we were against Hearts. But we got the breaks today and Jamie Langfield made a couple of good saves. Niall scored a couple and we had two chalked off for offside which were onside. I have looked at it on the tape. I wouldn’t like to think that if it came to goal difference for the top six, two wrong decisions go against us.
“I don’t normally complain, but I think it’s justifiable to complain when they are wrong, particularly if you win.”