THE general consensus is that Hearts would be far closer to other clubs at the bottom of the league if they could avoid serious lapses in concentration.
That was at the root of both goals conceded to Ross County, although manager Gary Locke was right to extol his players’ character at the end of another rollercoaster 90 minutes.
Gary Locke was right to extol his players’ character at the end of another rollercoaster 90 minutes.
Erratic defending has cost the Edinburgh club several times already this season – a by-product of Locke’s inexperienced squad. Matches against St Johnstone, St Mirren and the previous encounter with Ross County in Dingwall all spring to mind. Yet their resilience cannot be questioned and, indeed, has been proven over and over. It was again vital in this encounter against a County side carrying several goal threats.
The frustrating thing for Locke was that the visitors did not need any real sorcery to create their goals. Both were easily preventable. Twice Hearts fell behind, first when Callum Tapping’s wayward pass put Graham Carey in behind the home defence for a straightforward finish, and then when Melvin de Leeuw utilised far too much space inside the penalty area to lash home his team’s second.
Yet twice Hearts recovered, through Callum Paterson’s left-footed volley and Danny Wilson’s late headed equaliser. Had the correct stoppage time of five minutes been allotted instead of three, Hearts might have won this game after relentless pressure in the second half. Richard Brittain’s dismissal for two cautions – both for fouling Jamie Walker – had reduced the visitors to ten men as they led 2-1 with 26 minutes still to play.
The sight of both goalscorers, Wilson and Paterson, in a heated argument after County’s second goal emphasised the frustration within the home ranks. Too many times they have conceded cheaply this year. Saturday’s result reduced the gap at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership to 12 points. If that is to be overhauled, the charity must stop.
“It was a disagreement, an exchange of words, and it was heated but we move on,” explained Wilson of the incident. He felt Paterson should have closed De Leeuw down much quicker after the ball had been cut back by former Hearts striker Gary Glen.
“He [Paterson] put in a good performance and he got a goal and could have got one at the end to get us the winner. You exchange opinions. Sometimes you don’t always agree with each other but you accept it and move on. That’s what happened. It was 30 seconds, and that’s it. I had my view and he had his and I understand where he’s coming from but I felt he could have done better. He’s got his opinion on it and it’s just one of those things that happens.
“Callum has hit the bar at the end but Rocco Quinn hit the bar for them in the first half so maybe these things even themselves out. We are disappointed in the manner of the goals we lost. The first one was a mistake. People make mistakes but unfortunately Callum [Tapping] got punished for his. The second one we could have defended on the edge of the box a lot better. We’ve been in this situation before, coming in after a game knowing that the goals we lost were preventable. It would be nice to come in with a clean sheet and having defended better. That would make us happier.”
Although County finished the first half strongly and moved 2-1 ahead shortly after the break, the second half belonged to Hearts. David Smith made a huge impact as a substitute by getting balls into the County penalty area. The only surprise was that it took until the 87th minute for the equaliser to arrive. It was bundled in after Wilson’s header hit the inside of the post and the defender was unaware he had been awarded it rather than Ryan Stevenson.
“I’ve just been told I got credited with it,” said Wilson. “It’s nice but it would have been even better if we had got the win. But I’ll take it. I don’t know why the stadium announcer thought Stevo had scored it, but there you go. I’d had a few crosses that I wasn’t far away from in the game but I got a half yard to get my head on it and lucky enough it’s gone in the net and we got a point.
“I don’t know what it was like to watch but, if you were playing in it, it was an open game and very exciting. Both teams taking a point is probably a fair result but we were really looking for all three. We didn’t get it and that’s disappointing.
“We’re another point closer to zero in the table and the sooner we get there the better. We might have been closer if we’d defended a bit better against Ross County and taken a few more chances.”
Locke explained his own exasperation but was keen to praise his players for their persistence. “We shot ourselves in the foot at times, without a doubt. Ross County didn’t have to work hard for their goals,” he said. “They were poor goals from our point of view. The character in the second half was pleasing, though. The players never let the heads drop and they deserved to get an equaliser. I think they were unlucky not to get a winner.
“The character was magnificent again. They’re giving us everything, every ounce of effort. I’m disappointed not to win because I thought in the second half we deserved three points. We had them on the back foot for long spells. The players showed bravery and kept taking the ball even though the crowd was getting a wee bit restless.
“David Smith put four, five, six dangerous crosses into their box, which is something we’ve been encouraging the boys to do. We got our just rewards.
“I’m delighted for Callum Paterson. That’s three goals in three games if you include the Scotland Under-21 game. He also did everything right when he hit the bar with a header near the end. We’re gaining confidence and the more goals we can score, the better it will be for everyone. We need to eradicate the goals we’re losing. The first one was a disaster, and the second one we should clear but we don’t and we get punished. It’s a young team as we keep saying. We’re trying to eradicate errors but I think we need to talk about the tremendous character the players showed.
“It shows you we’re a young side all fighting for the cause. For me, this is a valuable point, a big point and hopefully it can make a big difference. We like to win our home games but that’s four points out of six now, so there’s lots to be positive about.”
The Ross County manager Derek Adams felt his team ought to have been further ahead before Brittain was red carded – the Highlanders’ third red card in two matches. “I thought we were the better side in the first half and we should have probably been out of sight by half-time,” he said. “Hearts got the bonus that our man was sent off and we were going to be under the cosh after that.
“Over the 90 minutes we should have won the game with the chances we had. It was the best offensive performance we’ve had this season and it was a terrific advert for Scottish football. It was end-to-end. It was like a basketball match at times and I think everyone would have gone home happy.”