Scorers: Aberdeen – Rooney (87)
A moment of rashness by the young Tynecastle defender Jordan McGhee saw him handle Kenny McLean’s cross under no pressure, allowing Rooney to win the game from the spot.
Hearts had battled against relentless Aberdeen pressure for long spells and looked like they would take a point back to Edinburgh. McGhee’s handball proved ever-so-costly in a game televised live across the nation. Aberdeen had monopolised the ball without creating too many genuine chances and will feel that their play merited the victory, which takes them to within a point of league leaders Celtic.
Early chances for Sam Nicholson and McLean were off target in what was a keenly-contested start to the afternoon. McLean’s movement in behind lone striker Rooney was a key part of Aberdeen’s gameplan and made him difficult for Hearts to track.
The visitors found themselves under intense pressure and having to play on the break as their opponents delivered teasing balls into the penalty box. They didn’t yield many clear openings, although Jonny Hayes’ speculative drive along the goal line required an alert save from the Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
Several late tackles went unpunished before referee Craig Thomson booked Hearts midfielder Miguel Pallardo for impeding Peter Pawlett. Pallardo fouled again moments later and the home crowd were irate by that stage. Hearts coach Robbie Neilson chose to replace the Spaniard with Morgaro Gomis to avoid any further punishment.
Alexander held a volley from Hayes on 32 minutes as Aberdeen’s superiority continued. Neilson had switched formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 upon making the substitution but that didn’t stem the attacking flow of those in red. Alexander produced another important save five minutes from the interval when he held Andrew Considine’s flying header from Hayes’ free-kick. He then held a deflected 20-yard attempt from McLean.
By the start of the second half, it seemed only a matter of time until Aberdeen broke the deadlock. Their guests from Edinburgh hadn’t imposed themselves during the first 45 minutes and needed greater impetus from midfield to attack.
Nicholson’s beautiful curling effort cracked off crossbar from around 22 yards with the Aberdeen goalkeeper Danny Ward beaten. The hosts resumed control and came close again on 57 minutes when Rooney headed McLean’s cross from the right over Alexander’s bar.
Hearts had reverted to a 4-2-3-1 shape, matching the opposition, and fashioned their first clear scoring chance on 65 minutes. Gomis’ ball into Juanma was controlled on the run by the Spaniard before his left-footed strike was tipped wide by the emerging Ward. From the resultant corner, Callum Paterson’s header was cleared off the goal line by Willo Flood.
Another opportunity on the break was thwarted by a fine sliding challenge from Shay Logan to stop Nicholson as he entered the penalty area. The final ten minutes arrived with the match finely poised, both sides knowing a goal now would likely become the winner.
And so it proved. On 87 minutes, McLean’s deep cross was inexplicably handled by McGhee near the six-yard line. Referee Craig Thomson pointed instantly to the penalty spot and Rooney confidently dispatched the ball beyond Alexander from 12 yards to secure three vital points for Aberdeen.