HEARTS’ brief sojourn to England brought a narrow defeat in their penultimate summer friendly.
Joe Garner headed the winning goal at Deepdale as Preston made the most of a dominant second half display. He capitalised on a rare error by the Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander to head home after 65 minutes.
A total of 1614 made the journey from Edinburgh to cheer Hearts on and, after an even first 45 minutes, saw their team pinned back at times. Preston earned promotion to England’s Chamionship by winning the League One play-off final in May and were worth their win in the end. Their guests must now focus on Sunday’s visit of Everton to Tynecastle before their competitive season begins.
Preston staff were prepared for a plethora of scouts attending this match, some of whom were watching young Hearts players in action. The youngest named in Robbie Neilson’s starting line-up was 17-year-old Sean McKirdy, given a prime chance to impress in central midfield. His first meaningful moment was to clear a Tom Clarke header off his own goal line in the 12th minute.
The vociferous travelling fans witnessed Osman Sow go close from 20 yards after a wayward pass by Preston’s Scotland internationalist Paul Gallagher. Hearts’ attacking movement was good as the triumvirate of Billy King, Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson posed danger roaming around behind lone striker Sow.
Preston appealed for a penalty when Blazej Augustyn, wearing the Hearts captain’s armband, tackled Jermaine Beckford inside the penalty area. Play continued and Callum Paterson’s 25-yard free-kick was deflected for a corner, which the full-back then headed over Jamie Jones’ crossbar. Paterson was taking every opportunity to rampage forward from his right-back station. Opposite him further down the field was Preston’s left-back, the former Dunfermline defender Calum Woods.
Five minutes from the interval, Sow turned his marker to angle a bouncing through pass just wide of Jones’ left post. It was the closest Hearts came to a goal in what was an even first period. Jordan McGhee looked assured partnering Augustyn in central defence and Neilson made no alterations to his team during the interval.
The hosts started the second half at rapid pace and it required three fine saves by Alexander to preserve the blank scoreline. Firstly Will Keane, on loan at Preston from Manchester United, collected a through pass and turned beautifully away from Augustyn’s attempted sliding block. His powerful shot was parried by Alexander, who also repelled Joe Garner’s right-footed drive moments later. When Gallagher delivered a free-kick to the back post just before the hour, Alexander was again equal to Keane’s header.
However, the keeper was culpable for the opening goal on 65 minutes. He appeared to slice a clearance across his own box, which Preston forward Joe Garner headed in from some 18 yards out. Alexander scrambled across his line to claw the ball out of his goal, but not before it crossed the line.
Preston were now more authoritative in midfield, where Hearts had replaced Miguel Pallardo with Kenny Anderson. The home side’s passing was crisper and that made it difficult for the Scots to retrieve possession at times. Substitute Gavin Reilly worked tirelessly after replacing Sow and desperately tried to force an equaliser.
King found himself with a late opportunity from a loping through ball around ten yards from goal. He took a fine first touch but his shot was blocked, and minutes later the final whistle sounded.
Preston (4-3-1-2): Jones; Clarke, Wright (Little 69), Huntington (Heaton 85), Woods (Anderton 77); Johnson, Welsh (Brownhill 69), Gallagher (Browne 69); Keane (Davies 69); Beckford (Hugill 69), Garner (Ryan 77). Subs: James, Heaton.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Alexander; Paterson, McGhee, Augustyn, McHattie; McKirdy (L Smith 85), Pallardo (Anderson 51); King, Walker (El Hassnaoui 83), Nicholson; Sow (Reilly 60). Subs: Hamilton, Ozturk, Buaben, Oliver, Gomis.
Referee: Darren Handley.