Barry Anderson's Hearts verdict: How Armand Gnanduillet capped debut in fine style on huge night for Jambos

If Hearts fancied a cheeky Gnando to devour the opposition, their new signing duly obliged in Kirkcaldy.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 7:00 am
Armand Gnanduillet made his Hearts debut at Raith Rovers.
Armand Gnanduillet made his Hearts debut at Raith Rovers.

Armand Gnanduillet played the last 30 minutes of the 4-0 win against Raith Rovers and underlined his potential by scoring twice.

His goals for Blackpool prompted Robbie Neilson to label him “a bit of a coup” after he signed an 18-month Hearts contract on Monday.

The giant Frenchman certainly looked bold enough on his debut after replacing Liam Boyce. Not only has he a penchant for scoring headers, he also displayed a willingness to run into channels for through balls.

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Out of possession, he pressed the tiring Raith defence and moved intelligently across the front line. But let’s not pretend. He was signed to score goals and generally cause havoc.

Hearts were 2-0 up against ten men when Gnanduillet entered the fray. He converted on 84 minutes after Jamie Walker’s shot was parried by Raith goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald. Then he leapt to glance Walker’s corner high into the net as his new club moved nine points clear at the top of the Championship.

Having spent four years at Blackpool, Gnanduillet is well used to the freezing cold and rain which greeted him in Fife last night.

He sat among the substitutes in the main stand beside the press area until called upon. At 6ft 4ins tall, his legs were so long he draped them over the row of seats in front.

Raith, fresh from a 3-2 win at Tynecastle Park on Saturday, handed forward Lewis Vaughan a first start since September 2019 following three separate cruciate ligament injuries.

Mihai Popescu was in the Hearts defence deputising for the injured Christophe Berra, and his looping ball created the evening’s first chance on 12 minutes.

Walker’s touch and shot on the run rebounded off the legs of MacDonald. It was the first in another series of stupefying saves from the former Tynecastle employee who repeatedly thwarted his old team at the weekend.

But for him, Hearts could genuinely have been five or six ahead by half-time. They were visibly more aggressive and tenacious in pressing Raith back and they enjoyed more assertive wing play through Gary Mackay-Steven on the left.

Their determined start was tempered somewhat when right winger Josh Ginnelly limped off with an apparent muscle injury. His replacement, Euan Henderson, wasted a glaring chance on the counter-attack by shooting high.

Nine minutes from the interval, Boyce played a crisp one-two with Michael Smith and dispatched the return beyond MacDonald with aplomb to open the scoring.

Two further saves by the keeper left Andy Halliday frustrated, but Henderson chested home Hearts’ second on 39 minutes following Boyce’s flick from Andy Irving’s corner.

Then came a senseless red card for Regan Hendry for stamping on Halliday after a midfield challenge.

The numerical advantage allowed the visitors’ even greater dominance in the second half. Again, though, MacDonald was alive to stop efforts from Walker and Boyce before Gnanduillet’s introduction.

The Frenchman grabbed the headlines for a debut which hints at a prosperous future in Gorgie.

Raith (4-2-3-1): J MacDonald; Tumilty, Musonda, Benedictus, K MacDonald; Spencer, Hendry; Armstrong (Ross 77), Vaughan (Tait 62), Kennedy; Duku (Davidson 72).

Hearts (4-3-3): Gordon; M Smith, Popescu, Halkett, Kingsley; Walker, Irving, Halliday; Ginnelly (Henderson 16), Boyce (Gnanduillet 60), Mackay-Steven (Naismith 68).

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