Rain pouring down on Tynecastle acted as a theme for an afternoon when Hearts’ Petrofac Training Cup progress was clouded in concern. Robbie Neilson’s new-look side started their competitive campaign strongly, dispensing with Annan Athletic 3-1. They could easily have won by a bigger margin, yet the day was overshadowed to an extent by Callum Paterson’s knee injury.
With Hearts 3-0 ahead and cruising moments before half-time, the 19-year-old full-back rose for an aerial challenge and caught his studs in the turf as he landed. A look of horror appeared on his face as he fell and clutched his left knee. He was stretchered off after the half-time whistle sounded and will today undergo a scan to determine the extent of the damage.
Tynecastle medical staff are hoping he has sustained only medial ligament damage rather than cruciate, which would sideline him for weeks as opposed to months. It was a sad backdrop to an otherwise positive afternoon for Hearts. Minutes earlier, with the recent hot weather giving way to showers, Paterson had headed the third of three fine goals as they took a tight grip of this tie.
The irrepressible Billy King scored first before Osman Sow struck on his competitive Hearts debut. Paterson’s header put the hosts on easy street, with part-time Annan looking overwhelmed at that point. The visitors recovered in the second half and scored a late consolation through substitute Scott Davidson, but the end result was never in doubt.
“I thought in periods we did well,” said Neilson. “In the first half we did what we were hoping to do. We got the ball switched across the park and tried to move them about. Once we got to 3-0, it became a wee bit too comfortable for the players. I thought they took the foot off the gas a wee bit and started getting slack. “They were taking risks and popping balls into areas that they shouldn’t. It’s important we learn from it and make sure we have a consistency about what we’re doing. You don’t slacken off, no matter what the score is. Losing a goal in the last minute, for example, could cost you in the league this season because it could go to goal difference. It’s important people don’t come here to score easy goals.
“We created chances and that’s the main thing. There are days when they all go in and there are days when none of them go in. The most important thing is we keep creating. The wide guys gave us a lot and I thought Osman gave us a good link. Dale Carrick was making good runs in behind, as he always does.”
In total, Neilson granted five players their competitive Hearts debuts – Sow, goalkeeper Neil Alexander, centre-back Alim Ozturk, plus midfielders Prince Buaben and Morgaro Gomis. It was a gentle introduction to the new season for all concerned against an Annan side which tried to compete, but struggled with the pace of Hearts’ attacks.
Sow’s fifth-minute header was cleared off the goal line before King – the outstanding player afield – struck the opening goal. The winger’s perseverance paid off as he forced his way past two opponents inside the penalty area to dispatch a shot at goal. Annan left-back Iain Chisholm tried to head clear but the height and power on the ball ensured he could only deflect it into the roof of the net.
David Hopkirk tested Alexander from a free-kick in a rare attacking foray for the visitors. King unleashed another attempt at the opposite end, this time from outside the box, which whistled wide, but Hearts didn’t have long to wait for their second. On 18 minutes, Sow fastened on to Carrick’s head flick and produced a calm right-footed finish low into the corner of Alex Mitchell’s net.
Hearts ought to have scored again after Sam Nicholson skinned Martin McNiff, but the winger’s finish was marginally too high. The same player then exchanged passes with Carrick, only for Mitchell to parry his powerful left-footed shot. Six minutes from the interval, the third arrived when Paterson rose to head King’s corner home unchallenged from around eight yards.
A fourth almost arrived when Carrick intercepted a wayward clearance and dinked a shot at goal, but Mitchell recovered to palm the ball out of the air. The game was effectively over by the interval, but there was the disconcerting sight of Paterson being stretchered off.
“It does take the shine off. He’s a big player for us and he’s just signed a new contract,” said Neilson. “It’s disappointing, but it gives other players an opportunity to come in now. We’ve got Liam Smith, one of the young boys coming through, who we’re trying to push to get in about the first team. There might be an opportunity, or we’ve got Jordan McGhee or Brad McKay. We’ve got options in that area. It’s football. We just hope Callum isn’t too bad.”
Much of the second period became a non-event given Hearts’ commanding lead. Sow’s incisive through pass put King one on one with Mitchell and, although the winger rounded the keeper, his shot from an acute angle rolled across the face of goal and wide.
Ozturk had a 62nd-minute free-kick deflected off target and Carrick evaded the attentions of centre-back Steven Black for a shot which spun off Mitchell’s wrist before being cleared off the goal line by Chisholm. The Annan goalkeeper then pushed a vicious 30-yard drive from Kevin McHattie over his crossbar.
The final stages saw King in full flow, skipping past players and sending several dangerous shots goalwards without success. He was clearly determined to take his chance in the Hearts first team at the start of another competitive campaign.
The last act of note was Davidson’s fine strike. The striker cut inside from the left to angle a low finish beyond Alexander with his right foot. It was the part-timers’ deserved moment of glory, but Hearts still eased into Tuesday’sdraw for the second round of the Petrofac Training Cup.
Neilson professed himself pleased with Sow’s scoring exploits after three goals in three appearances for Hearts to date. The head coach feels there is more to come from the giant Swede. “So far, Osman has been great. He’s still getting his fitness levels up because he didn’t do much of a pre-season. You can see he’s got pace and he’s got power, he links up the play well and he makes good runs for us. So far, so good. We just need to keep pushing him.
“I know he’s still got a long way to go, but he’ll be a big player for us this year. I haven’t set him any goal targets because sometimes that puts pressure on people. You just want them to go out and try to score in every game. He’s done that so far, so hopefully he’ll continue.”