A comprehensive and ruthless victory took Hearts six points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership in Jim McIntyre’s first home match as Dundee manager.
The win was effectively sealed with two goals inside the first 15 minutes, helping the Edinburgh club continue a table-topping momentum which has not been seen around Gorgie since 2005.
Oliver Bozanic’s 25-yard free-kick and Steven Naismith’s close-range finish had them 2-0 ahead by the 14th minute at Dens Park. Celtic loanee Calvin Miller then missed a penalty for Dundee before Steven MacLean added a third seconds after half-time. It was as convincing a performance by Hearts as it was a hapless one from their bottom-of-the-table hosts.
This was Dundee’s sixth successive home defeat and it must be said their defending means that sequence is no surprise. By contrast, Craig Levein’s side stretched their advantage at the league’s summit with a hint of swagger, some one-touch passing and neat combinations all over the pitch. They proved a class apart and collected a useful three points in preparation for Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final with Celtic.
Naismith was at the hub of so many dangerous attacks, with Bozanic, MacLean, Arnaud Djoum, Clevid Dikamona and Michael Smith all impressing. That ensured a worthwhile trip to the City of Discovery for the 1,891 travelling fans. There was even time for goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal to swing on his crossbar at the request of those behind him.
Harry Cochrane made his first start of the season for Hearts following some persistent injury problems. Dundee reinstated goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, a summer signing from Tynecastle Park, in place of Elliot Parish following Saturday’s 4-0 thumping at Livingston. That was McIntyre’s first match in charge and he would have been aghast watching all four goals arrive via set-plays. His second started in exactly the same vein.
Dundee were 1-0 down inside two minutes thanks to a magnificent set-piece from Bozanic. Lewis Spence fouled Cochrane 25 yards from goal, after which Bozanic stepped up to curl the resultant free-kick over the wall and away from Hamilton into the net with his left foot.
On 14 minutes, one became two. Hearts dispossessed Elton Ngwatala deep inside their own half and constructed a flowing attacking move. The ball was worked out to full-back Michael Smith on the right and he delivered a low cross towards the near post. A flick from MacLean and a close-range conversion from Naismith and Dens Park’s away end erupted again. It was the Scotland forward’s 13th goal in 19 games for club and country this season.
The visitors were stronger, sharper, more competitive and more clinical than their opponents during what was an explosive start. The drama continued when Dundee were awarded a penalty, which they duly wasted. The Hearts centre-back Jimmy Dunne was penalised for a challenge on Benjamin Kallman as a cross from the left arrived, but Miller sent his left-footed spot-kick wide of Zlamal’s left post to compound a truly awful opening period for the hosts.
That miss took the dejection of the home support to a new low, if that was possible. Their team were being opened up almost at will and might have lost a third goal seven minutes from the interval, but MacLean’s 20-yard chip struck the underside of the crossbar. Hamilton charged out from his goal to confront MacLean one-on-one in the final act of the first half, and the keeper succeeded in beating away the striker’s shot.
McIntyre faced a daunting task to lift and improve his players at the break. They were being outplayed, although had Miller’s penalty been successful they would nonetheless have still been in this game. The goal which extinguished any lingering chance of a comeback arrived just 16 seconds after the restart.
Naismith and MacLean were predictably involved in the build-up and a ricocheted attempt at goal spun out to Callumn Morrison on the right. From an acute angle, the young winger cut the ball inside to MacLean who prodded it into the unguarded net with Hamilton beaten.
Dundee gave a slightly better account of themselves during the second half – most notably late shots by substitute Roarie Deacon and midfielder Jesse Curran which Zlamal dealt with – but a three-goal deficit was well beyond them. Hearts replaced Naismith with the former Dundee forward Craig Wighton 20 minutes remaining, the former departing to a chorus about him being a “goal machine”.
That was one of many celebratory chants from the away end throughout the evening. However, the sound of “we shall not be moved” during the closing stages was as loud as any.
Dundee (4-2-3-1): Hamilton; Kerr, Inniss, O’Dea, C Miller; Kamara, Spence (Madianga 46); Curran, Kallman, Ngwatala (Deacon 52); K Miller. Unused subs: Parish, Mendy, Nabi, Boyle, Henvey.
Hearts (4-4-2): Zlamal; M Smith, Dikamona, Dunne, Mitchell (Garuccio 73); Morrison, Cochrane (Lee 77), Bozanic, Djoum; MacLean, Naismith (Wighton 71). Unused subs: Doyle, Clare, Hughes, Mulraney.
Referee: Craig Thomson.