Dundee 0-1 Hearts: Walker is unexpected hero; Kingsley injury concern

Jamie Walker was the unlikely and unexpected hero for Hearts, coming off the bench to score the only goal in a 1-0 win away to Dundee in the cinch Premiership.

Saturday, 18th December 2021, 4:55 pm
Updated Saturday, 18th December 2021, 7:01 pm

There will be concern about the injury which forced Stephen Kingsley to limp off. But after a drab first half, a match-winning goal for Walker on his first appearance since September 18 gave the 1,386 travelling support enough to get excited about in the second.

The 28-year-old is out of favour, soon out of contract and attracting interest from Livingston and St Johnstone. But he was the man head coach Robbie Neilson turned to after 58 minutes, replacing the ineffective Gary McKay-Steven, in a bid to spark some life into a blunt Hearts attack devoid of Liam Boyce.

Aaron McEneff, brought on for the equally ineffective Ben Woodburn, fired in the shot which was tipped onto the post and bounced along the goal line. Walker was the first to react, firing high into the net from a tight angle much to the delight of the Hearts fans behind the goal.

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Jamie Walker scores from close range to make it 1-0

“He’s one of our own,” they sang. As the minutes ticked on and the fog thickened, sing was all they could do. It was hard to see what was happening on the pitch.

Just as well, perhaps. It was a drab game. Hearts controlled it for the most part but didn’t really create anything until Walker and McEneff came on to change the game. Barrie McKay, who played his part in the goal, had a good shout for a penalty turned down as well.

Boyce failed a fitness test on his troublesome calf, Neilson opting for a fluid front three of McKay, McKay-Steven and Woodburn rather than go with Armand Gnanduillet as a focal point for the attack.

After going with a back four against Rangers last week, Neilson’s familiar 3-4-3 shape was back.

Taylor Moore is pressured by Dundee's Luke McCowan and Paul McGowan at the Kilmac Stadium

The decision to start Andy Halliday and leave Alex Cochrane on the bench again may also have puzzled many fans, but the on-loan Brighton man got his chance midway through the first half when Kingsley limped off following a hefty challenge ten minutes earlier from Paul McMullan.

Dundee somehow escaped from Tynecastle with a point when the teams last met, despite Hearts dominating.

With James McPake only able to list five subs due his depleted squad, this was a game Neilson would have expected to win.

Indeed, with two home games against Ross County and St Johnstone up next, it was the first of three games presenting a golden opportunity for Hearts to strengthen their grip on third place.

But for all the possession Hearts enjoyed in the first half, they didn’t look like scoring. Woodburn, who started centrally, clipped one shot over the bar but generally came off second best to Liam Fontaine every time the ball was played into him.

Craig Gordon had to push a half-decent 20-yard Luke McCowan shot round the post, but other than that Dundee didn’t pose much of a threat either.

Peter Haring and buzzbomb midfielder Cammy Devlin controlled the game in the middle of the park, but there was little spark from the front three.

Neilson’s introduction of Walker and McAneff had the desired effect, the pair combining to score the winning goal.

It was Walker’s 54th goal for Hearts and had gone close just before that with a volley on the stretch which just went past the post.

With the transfer window opening in less than two weeks, his game-changing introduction will give Neilson plenty of food for thought.

Dundee: Legzdins; Kerr, Fontaine, McGhee, Elliott; McMullan (Jakubiak 80), Anderson, Mullen, McGowan, McCowan; Griffiths. Subs not used: Lawlor, Panter, Donald, Lamb.

Hearts: Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; Moore, Haring, Devlin, Halliday (Cochrane 24); McKay, McKay-Steven (Walker 58), Woodburn (McEneff 74). Subs not used: Stewart, Smith, Gnaduillet, Logan.

Referee: Willie Column.

Attendance: 5,874.

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