Craig Gordon sets new Hearts shutout record as fans return for win against Cove Rangers
Craig Gordon set a new Hearts goalkeeping record with a ninth successive clean sheet in the 3-0 Premier Sports Cup victory over Cove Rangers.
In front of supporters at Tynecastle Park for the first time in 494 days, Andy Halliday, Liam Boyce and Gary Mackay-Steven claimed the goals to put Robbie Neilson’s side in firm command of Group A.
Gordon recorded his ninth shutout in a row for his club to eclipse the previous best tally of eight, set by Jon McLaughlin during season 2017/18. In truth, it was perhaps the easiest evening the Scotland internationalist has had given he barely touched the ball.
That Paul Hartley’s return to Tynecastle coincided with that of the supporters who adored his time in maroon seemed quite fitting. League One Cove suffered a 3-2 home defeat by Stirling Albion on Saturday whilst Hearts were winning at Peterhead, so the visitors needed something from this visit to the Capital to avoid being out of the running in Group A.
Teenager Finlay Pollock made his first start for the Edinburgh club but ten minutes in Cove almost silenced the stadium’s eager audience of 1,983. Iain Vigurs’ through pass found Leighton McIntosh on a diagonal run into the Hearts penalty area, and he clipped an attempt over Craig Gordon which Michael Smith hooked off his own goal line.
A minute later Halliday opened the scoring. He collected Josh Ginnelly’s square pass and stroked a sumptuous finish low into the visitors’ net from almost 30 yards.
Ginnelly’s pace and direct running was tormenting his direct opponent, the Cove left-back Harry Milne, and from the winger’s low cutback Pollock swivelled to shoot against a post on 20 minutes.
A regular feature of Hearts’ new 3-4-3 system is right wing-back Michael Smith stepping into midfield when his team gain possession. He ventured even further forward after 32 minutes to collect a through pass from Boyce and shoot, only for visiting goalkeeper Kyle Gourlay to touch the ball wide.
Smith was integral to the hosts doubling their advantage right on half-time. His driven cross was parried by Gourlay straight to Boyce, who calmly slotted the rebound into the net.
Ten minutes after the interval it was 3-0. Cove were the architects of their own downfall with slack distribution from a goal kick. Halliday seized possession for Mackay-Steven to ruthlessly punish the carelessness with a powerful low finish.
Gourlay needed strong hands to repel Ginnelly’s shot from a tight angle midway through the second period. Cove looked a beaten side but never stopped competing to at least reduce the deficit.
With the tie won, Hearts introduced another Riccarton academy graduate 13 minutes from the end in 17-year-old midfielder Aidan Denholm.
Substitute Rory McAllister almost ended Gordon’s clean sheet sequence from Fraser Fyvie’s cross but his header bounced wide. At the opposite end, Gourlay thwarted both Aaron McEneff and Boyce late on.
With a new record achieved added to a deserved victory, Hearts’ winning start to the new season continued and sent the returning fans home contented.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley (Haring 59); M Smith, Pollock (McEneff 59), Halliday (C Smith 77), Cochrane; Ginnelly (Henderson 71), Boyce, Mackay-Steven (Denholm 77).
Cove Rangers (4-4-1-1): Gourlay; Ross (Watson 60), Draper, Neill, Milne (Thomas 77); Yule, Vigurs, Scully (McAllister 62), McIntosh; Fyvie; Megginson.