DINGWALL witnessed zeros, heroes and bravos at the weekend as Hearts entered positive points in the Scottish Premiership.
Scott Robinson’s winning goal ensured the Jambos finally erased their 15-point penalty for entering administration and broke through the zero barrier. If anyone doubted what that meant to those involved, they only had to witness the aftermath of Robinson’s strike.
The majority of the Hearts team clamoured to congratulate the midfielder, who headed towards the travelling support in delight after lashing the ball beyond Michael Fraser with nine minutes left. Fans scampered down stairs to hug players as they arrived in a scene which epitomised the spirit Hearts have relied upon during their recent troubles.
Weather-wise, it was a bleak afternoon in the Highlands. Driving rain left the Victoria Park pitch sodden and players drenched come full-time. Yet out of the darkness came a psychological chink of light for Hearts. Passing the zero points mark in the league was a psychological target of manager Gary Locke, albeit one which Hearts were expected to reach before Christmas rather than after.
They got there by dint of a performance which emphasised everything good about their young squad. For much of the game, they attacked and created a plethora of chances against an experienced and cultured Ross County side. The Highlanders had won three and drawn one of their previous four fixtures and recruited several new players from the continent, but manager Derek Adams conceded he had “no complaints” about the end result. His team lost to the better side on the day, one which moved the ball well around the damp surface.
Robinson’s first goal in almost two and a half years secured the three points after Callum Paterson’s opener was cancelled out by a Yann Songo’o header. Hearts remain 18 points adrift at the foot of the table but their players took significant encouragement from this encounter. “It’s been a long time for me but it was a great feeling to get the winner,” explained Robinson.
“I thought we deserved it because we were unlucky not to be two or three up by half-time.
“That was our aim at the start of the season, to get to zero as soon as possible. It’s taken us longer than we’d hoped but we’re never going to give up. This is a hard task. We’ll just try to get the three points in every game and see where it takes us.
“The spirit has been there all season. If it wasn’t, we’d be gone by now. The heads would be down and the fight would be over. There is a good bunch of lads in the team with good heads on them and we’ll never give up.
“We all play for the jersey. We’re at a big club and we’re not going to admit to going down until we’re actually down.
“We’ve nothing to lose at all. Our performances over the last few weeks have been a lot better. Hopefully we’ve turned the corner a bit. We’ve got a big semi-final coming up [in the League Cup] so hopefully the second half of the season can be a good one.”
Paterson had opened the scoring on 37 minutes following a corner by the outstanding David Smith. Along with Sam Nicholson, Smith tormented the County defence throughout the first half and helped create several good opportunities.
Nicholson and Paterson missed one apiece and Smith himself hit the post from distance before the deadlock was broken.
County equalised on the stroke of half-time when Songo’o headed Richard Brittain’s swerving free-kick powerfully beyond Jamie MacDonald. County then emerged for the second half to take command, and MacDonald had to push a vicious 40-yarder from Songo’o for a corner shortly after the restart. Hearts weathered the storm, though. When Dylan McGowan delivered a pinpoint cross for the unmarked Nicholson in the 74th minute, their second goal seemed certain. Somehow, the teenager headed over from around five yards, but he was to be spared additional anguish.
Another Smith cross was fisted down tamely by Fraser and Robinson steadied himself before striking the winner high into the net with his left foot. Cue those celebrations.
“It’s just great to be on positive points,” said Paterson. “We haven’t had much luck throughout the whole season. Sam missed a chance in the first few seconds, I missed one and everyone seemed to miss one. We got a goal and that gave us confidence. Then we lost a goal, but I think we were on top for most of the game. We carried on and eventually got the win we deserved.
“None of the boys’ heads were down. We’re here to play football and hopefully get something at the end of it. The timing of the win is perfect. If we can win again on Wednesday [against St Mirren] it will set us in good stead for Sunday. People have been writing us off since the start of the season so there’s not much pressure on the boys. We’ve taken a step in the right direction getting on to positive points, and we’ve realised we can score goals away from home.”
Adams was gracious in defeat, much to his credit. “We have no complaints,” he said. “Hearts did really well. They started on the front foot and caused us problems. Just after half-time we looked a bit stronger and had more control of the game but did we do enough to score? Maybe not.”
Locke was keen to praise his players collectively rather than single out individuals. “I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I thought that, at half-time, we should’ve been three or four goals up. If we’d taken our chances then the game could’ve been finished, but I’m delighted with our performance and I’m delighted with three points.
“The pleasing thing was the performance. I thought we moved the ball and created chances. If we can brush up on our finishing then hopefully we can taken these chances in the weeks ahead.
“Sam Nicholson had two great chances in the game but I thought he was excellent and played really well. He’s very direct and difficult to play against. But not just him, I’m delighted with the whole team’s performance. I’ve certainly seen signs in the last couple of weeks that the confidence is coming back.
“It’s a big boost for us psychologically to be in positive points. It’s been a long, hard slog for us but it’s great for us and great for the supporters as well. They travelled up in huge numbers again so that performance and result was for them.”