THERE may not have been the thrills, spills and five goals of their previous match, but Hearts manager Gary Locke insisted that there were still many positives to take from the goalless draw with Queen of the South.
Having trounced Raith Rovers in midweek, Hearts would have travelled to Palmerston Park with confidence high, but were instead met by a determined Queens side, who created more chances and stood fast at the back on the occasions that the visitors did break forward.
In fairness to Locke’s side, though, they had to cope with the additional hurdle of playing on the Dumfries side’s new artificial surface, which was being put to use for the first time, but Locke was quick to praise the two sets of players for their efforts.
The match was again played out in stifling temperatures and with a number of players leaving the field in sweat-soaked shirts, Locke – who made two changes from that Raith match – conceded that he couldn’t question the efforts of his side.
He said: “I thought that it was a tough one. We said to the players after the game that, although we scored five goals against Raith, you can’t just think that we have turned the corner or that we are a brilliant side.
“Queens played very, very well and they had us chasing it for long spells. Credit to the lads though, for the way that they threw themselves in front of everything.
“That is the type of commitment that we are going to need this season. It was another really good workout for us.”
Queens dominated the first half in particular and in terms of chances over the course of the 90 minutes, although Hearts enjoyed their fair share of possession without managing to turn it into any real kind of goal threat.
Jordan McGhee started at right-back with Jamie Hamill being pushed into the middle of the park and Scott Robinson given a seat on the bench, while goalkeeper Mark Ridgers was handed the gloves and regular No. 1 Jamie MacDonald rested among the substitutes.
Ridgers will have done his chances no harm at all with a confident display, combined with a couple of impressive stops, ensuring Hearts left Dumfries with a share of the spoils.
As early as the seventh minute, Queens signalled their intent, Paul Burns unleashing a dipping shot just wide of target.
Hearts came close in 16 minutes when Billy King fought his way through the Queens rearguard and stabbed the ball in to Jamie Walker, only for him to drill his angled shot just wide.
Danny Carmichael was the stand-out for the home side and almost gave Queens the lead early in the game when the bounce on the new plastic pitch caught Mark Ridgers out, but the keeper was alert enough to have a second swipe at it and claw it round the post.
Next up was Kevin Holt, who could have broken the deadlock in spectacular style on the half hour with on overhead kick that dipped just too late, but Hearts had again had Ridgers to thank for keeping the scores level just a few minutes later.
The home side looked like they would bag the lead before the break when Chris Higgins rose to meet a Chris Mitchell corner, but his header was saved at the last minute, the stand-in Jambos keeper managing to stretch himself and touch it over the bar.
Ryan McGuffie and Gavin Reilly caused all sorts of problems for Ridgers, who played the full 90 minutes, when they burst into the box before finding Carmichael, but his shot was again blocked by the keeper.
The first real opening of any note for Hearts came when sub Sam Nicholson cut down the right and swung the ball neatly in for Dale Carrick, only for the striker to send his header over.
Ridgers then pulled off a stunning save from Dan Orsi’s effort and then as the game entered the dying minutes, Queens’ Iain Russell picked out Orsi for what looked a relatively simple finish, only for him to blast his shot over the bar.
Queens’ performance may have come as something of a surprise to the handful of Hearts fans who travelled to Dumfries to be part of the 1480 crowd, but Locke insisted that he expected nothing less of Jim McIntyre’s men.
He added: “I wasn’t surprised because I think that they have got good players.
“I think last year they only lost one game so that tells you how good a side they are. They have got a lot of experience in their side and they moved the ball well.”
McIntyre was a happy man at the end of the 90 minutes and felt that his side had given a good account of themselves against their top-flight opposition, particularly with that trouncing of Rovers in mind.
He said: “I thought we played exceptionally well and passed the ball really well. We have got good players. It was a stiff test for us because Hearts had just come off the back of a really good result during the week, but I thought that we started well.”
The match was the first on Queens’ new artificial surface and McIntyre believes that it can only be a positive thing for his side.
He continued: “We trained on it for the first time on Thursday and it was really hot in the stadium, it must have been about 30 degrees, so the players’ feet were burning a bit, but it is excellent, really good.”
Queen of the South: Trialist, Mitchell (Orsi 70), Holt (McShane 70), Trialist, Dowie (Russell 60), Higgins (Slattery 70), McKenna McGuffie 60), Burns (Young 60), Lyle (Reilly 60), Paton (Durnan 60), Carmichael.
Hearts: Ridgers; McGhee (A King 84), McGowan, McKay, McHattie (Naysmith 71); Hamill (Robinson 46), Walker (Nicholson 59), Tapping; B King (Carrick 46), Stevenson (Paterson 79), Smith (Holt 46). Subs not used: MacDonald, Oliver, Gordon.
Referee: Euan Norris