JOHN McGLYNN in the arms of Gary Locke, Tynecastle erupting around them. This was the sight as Callum Paterson celebrated scoring Hearts’ crucial second goal against Aberdeen. The teenager’s finish ensured three vital points, not to mention a victory for tactical tinkering.
Changing formation to 4-4-2 was a brave move by McGlynn in the face of some stinging criticism. Coaches who yield to public carping can be seen as weak; however, that term could not be applied to the Hearts manager. He fielded John Sutton and Gordon Smith together in attack after leaving both forwards on the substitutes’ bench for most of the season. Hearts reaped the rewards of the decision.
Their forward line looked dynamic, purposeful and it carried both a physical and goalscoring threat. Basically everything it has not had for several weeks. Hearts had failed to score in three games before Saturday and found themselves confronting one of Scotland’s in-from teams in Aberdeen. They moved 2-0 ahead when substitute Paterson supplemented Ryan Stevenson’s first-half penalty, and the outpouring of delight in the technical area would have touched even McGlynn’s hardest critic.
The visitors fashioned good openings of their own, but it was the hosts’ clinical finishing which, for a change, made the difference. Many Hearts fans had been calling for Sutton and Smith to start in a 4-4-2 line-up for some time. They got their wish on Saturday and it proved an inspired change.
“Fair play to Gordon Smith and John Sutton and Andy Driver,” said McGlynn. “They haven’t started a lot recently, but they played a big part within the team set up. Their attitude was great, they worked hard for the team and caused problems. The hard work they put in paid dividends for everyone.
“We also had to stay composed at the back and we’ve got ourselves another clean sheet. Barring the 4-0 defeat to Celtic, our defensive record is very good.”
Stevenson scored his first Hearts goal since October 2, 2011, by slotting his penalty high beyond Jamie Langfield after 31 minutes.
Referee Euan Norris’ award came when Josh Magennis was judged to have impeded Ryan McGowan at a corner and Stevenson confidently dispatched the ball into the top corner.
“Zaliukas was on our last penalty which I wanted to take at Inverness,” he said. “When he missed his [against Celtic] I was keen to get on the penalties. It has been a long time since I scored and that brought more pressure, but it was nice to see it hit the net.
“It was a big win for us. Everybody at the club was disappointed at losing last week. The main thing is to focus on football now and put the off-field things to the side. It has been a long drawn-out saga. We knew the standards we’ve set haven’t been good enough.
“Hopefully this is a springboard. We have a number of games coming up that we can win. It only takes a few wins and you can climb the table.”
Stevenson was replaced by Paterson at the interval having been left dazed by a clash of heads with the Aberdeen defender Joe Shaughnessy late in the first half.
The teenager took just nine minutes to make his mark, with Smith a key protagonist in setting up the goal. He drove down the right flank and benefitted from Shaughnessy’s unfortunate slip at a key moment. That allowed Smith time to roll the ball into Paterson’s path for a powerful finish off the far post.
“Both Gordon and John have been biding their time and training away. The manager gave them their chance and they grabbed it with both hands,” said Stevenson. “They are two very good strikers and they’ll only get better with more game time. Both of them are capable of scoring goals for us. We went with two up front and it was a good, positive performance from both of them.
“We’ve really been struggling up front. Our defence has been outstanding, but too often they would clear balls and it would just come right back at them. I can’t remember the ball coming back off Sutty on Saturday. He and Gordon held it up well.
“Aberdeen are a good team, but we limited their chances. As players we need to step up and put the financial stuff to the side now. The fans have done their bit. Since I’ve come to Hearts we’ve never been in this situation, being down the wrong end of the table, so we need to sort that out.”
Aberdeen’s astoundingly poor record against Hearts thus continues. They have beaten the Edinburgh club only once in the past six years. That malaise is worsened by statistics which show Aberdeen have not scored a single goal against Hearts in almost three years. Yet they did not play badly at Tynecastle.
“I thought we actually had more chances than Hearts,” said the visiting manager, Craig Brown. “I can’t recall our goalkeeper making a worthwhile save. The scoreline shows Hearts won 2-0, therefore they deserve it. The first goal was a soft penalty and our young defender slipped at the second, so Hearts got two easy goals.
“Declan McManus, Jamie Masson and Rory Fallon all had good chances for us and could all have scored. They were right in front of the goal. I could have run from the dugout and scored – with two bad knees.”
Brown made that last comment in slight jest, but he admitted he cannot fathom Aberdeen’s sub-standard form against Hearts.
“I’ve got no explanation. We haven’t lost to Hibs in Edinburgh, so we can beat them and yet not beat Hearts. I don’t think there’s a hoodoo – it’s just one of those things. We’ve been unfortunate that Archie Knox and I inherited a situation where Hearts were beating Aberdeen and we’ve not managed to redress it.
“Hearts are in a false position in the SPL, they are a good side. It’s not like we played a poor side.”