Craig Gordon's brilliance saves Hearts as Tynecastle teenager makes his debut at Ross County

Despite dominating possession and missing a first-half penalty, it was exceptional goalkeeping from Craig Gordon which ultimately preserved a point for Hearts at Ross County.

Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 4:53 pm
Updated Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 5:56 pm

Alex Iacovitti scored for the Highlanders after their keeper, Ross Laidlaw, saved Barrie McKay’s 17th minute spot-kick. Jack Baldwin’s own goal levelled the score before half-time and County also hit the frame of Hearts’ goal three times during the 90 minutes.

A double save by Gordon after the break proved pivotal to the final outcome in Dingwall. He pushed Jordan Tillson’s 20-yard shot onto the post and instinctively sprung up to divert Ross Callachan’s rebound attempt wide from point-blank range.

It was the latest episode in a series of outstanding saves by the 39-year-old Scotland internationalist. The travelling support responded with chants of “there’s only one Craig Gordon” to show their appreciation.

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Barrie McKay's shot which led to Hearts' equaliser at Ross County.

Several Hearts players missed this fixture through injury, including Beni Baningime, Michael Smith, John Souttar and Cammy Devlin. County left second-top goalscorer Joseph Hungbo on the substitutes’ bench as they pushed for a place in the Premiership’s top half.

The visitors fashioned the first clear opening inside four minutes. Stephen Kingsley’s crossfield ball found Aaron McEneff on the right for a precise first-time delivery across the six-yard box. Liam Boyce slid in but the ball appeared to strike his heel and spin away from goal as the first glorious chance was missed.

The second was McKay’s penalty, stopped by Laidlaw on 17 minutes after referee Gavin Duncan ruled that County’s Connor Randall fouled McKay near the byline. For all Hearts’ early control, they couldn’t force a breakthrough.

They survived an almighty scare just before the half-hour. The County captain Baldwin met Blair Spittal’s corner, his header rebounded off the post and Harry Paton pounced. Only a slight deflection off Boyce prevented him scoring.

Alex Cochrane then blocked Ross Callachan’s attempt as the hosts edged closer. A free-kick on the right led to their opener as Spittal delivered for Iacovitti to prod home near the front post.

It might have been 2-0 moments later, another Spittal cross finding Regan Charles-Cook for a second effort off the post. Hearts finally forced the goal their play merited six minutes from the interval.

The influential McKay supplied a cross which came back to him for a first-time strike at goal. Baldwin slid in and merely deflected the ball beyond Laidlaw at the near post to level the scoreline at 1-1.

Only Gordon’s stupefying saves stopped the Highlanders regaining the lead following the restart. Tillson fired Jordan White’s lay-off at goal and Gordon sprung to his right to push the ball onto the post. Callachan hit the rebound but Gordon recovered instinctively to throw himself in the opposite direction, preventing a certain goal.

At a time when Riccarton academy graduates in the Hearts first team are thin on the ground, it was encouraging seeing teenage striker Mackenzie Kirk – son of Andy – given his debut in stoppage-time.

The game finished all square and both sides seemed to accept a point without much complaint.

Ross County (4-2-3-1): Laidlaw; Randall, Baldwin, Iacovitti, Vokins; Tillson, Callachan; Spittal, Paton (Samuel 65), Charles-Cook (Hungbo 79); White.

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Sibbick, Halkett, Kingsley, Cochrane; Haring, Halliday; McEneff (Woodburn 62), Boyce (Kirk 90), McKay; Simms (Ginnelly 62).

Referee: Gavin Duncan.

Attendance: 5,210.

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