Picking the ball from your net 60 seconds into your debut is probably the worst experience for any goalkeeper.
Hearts’ Colin Doyle endured that scenario at Pittodrie on Saturday as the Aberdeen striker Sam Cosgrove continued his prolific goalscoring streak.
Cosgrove’s double ruined Doyle’s debut for the Edinburgh club after Czech keeper Zdenek Zlamal was dropped for recent errors. Seeing his team denied two penalty claims did not help the Irishman much, either.
If manager Craig Levein’s emotions were familiarly frustrating regarding the match officials, Doyle suffered a complete contrast. The high of starting his first game for Hearts was quickly quashed when Cosgrove headed Aberdeen in front in the first minute.
“My first touch was picking the ball out of the net. So it was a good start,” joked the 33-year-old, who joined Hearts in July. “No, it was frustrating but I don’t think there was too much I could do about it. He’s put a good header into the corner. As a group we did okay after that but we could not take our chances.”
Aberdeen controlled the opening exchanges but Hearts forced their way into contention as the first 45 minutes evolved. Steven MacLean’s shot was blocked by the home goalkeeper Joe Lewis following neat build-up from a free-kick, although referee John Beaton missed a clear foul on Steven Naismith by Aberdeen’s Max Lowe during the move.
Naismith was back from seven weeks out after knee surgery but could not influence proceedings as he wished. The visitors felt they deserved another penalty in the second half when Peter Haring and Niall McGinn collided in the second half. Beaton didn’t agree. When he did point to the spot, it was in Aberdeen’s favour.
Scott McKenna sprinted towards the opposition six-yard box as McGinn delivered a deep free-kick. The Scotland defender ended up on the ground and a penalty was given immediately, which Cosgrove converted with aplomb.
“We are saying this every week,” said Doyle. “This was my first game but I can still see them from the side of the pitch when I wasn’t playing. Naisy was clearly pulled down when we took a clever free-kick.
“I don’t know whether the referee was looking at Macca because he had a chance to score and missed the incident, or if he saw it and thought it was not a penalty. But it was a penalty. They are bringing in VAR down south and that would help but I don’t know if it’s feasible in Scotland.
“For Aberdeen’s penalty, their lad took a chance. The ball was going out of play and he was getting nowhere near it so he just chucked himself on the ground. The ref gave it and it’s disappointing because we played some good football at times. But it was a better performance than the 5-0 one.”
Nonetheless, results are proving hard to come by for Hearts.
Naismith was cautioned along with the Aberdeen substitute Stephen Gleeson after tempers flared in midfield in the second half. The Scotland striker appeared to catch Ferguson on the ground but it was unclear at first glance how much intent there was from the Hearts player.
Demetri Mitchell’s late dismissal compounded the miserable afternoon in the north east. The on-loan Manchester United defender needlessly impeded the Aberdeen substitute Dean Campbell as he tried to scamper forward. Having already been booked, Mitchell received the obligatory red card.
Doyle could only look on, perhaps wondering what the next few days will hold.
“I got told on Thursday I was playing. I played on the Monday in a reserve game to get minutes under my belt. It’s great to start but the result was disappointing,” he admitted.
“I was not expecting to start the season. Bobby [Zlamal] was in place and he was doing well. I couldn’t exactly go in and knock on the manager’s door when the team was winning every game and we were top of the table. He would have told me where to go.
“Now I’ve got a chance to try and keep the shirt. I’ll do my best to keep it until the end of the season. We’ve got a big game on Wednesday [against Hamilton] and next Saturday [at Hibs] but we can only concentrate on Wednesday. We want to pick up three points at home then go into the derby.
“Every game is a must-win. You don’t go into games looking for a draw. It will be tough but we had a lot of good spells on Saturday and we will try and build on it.”
If there was one enduring positive for more than 1,000 Hearts supporters who travelled to Aberdeen three days before Christmas, it was the sight of top goalscorer Naismith back on the field.
“It’s great to have him back,” said Doyle.
“He talks the younger lads through the game, which helps. He’s got great experience and hopefully he can push on now. Hopefully we will have a few more guys back from injury and we can get back to the form we showed at the start of the season.
“Confidence is big in football but I don’t think it’s a problem. It just seems that every game we play there’s a penalty against us. I’m sure a result is just around the corner, then we can build on it.”