Andy Harrow looks back on Hearts’ 1-1 draw with Ross County
Arnaud Djoum’s injury is a blow to Hearts
With 25 minutes gone in Dingwall, the ball came towards Arnoud Djoum just inside Hearts’ half. As he turned and looked to drive on, his foot appeared to catch in the turf and he crumpled in a heap. It looked an innocuous, almost slapstick, moment in a scrappy game, but it could have a major impact on Hearts’ season. It was later confirmed that Djoum had succumbed to an achilles injury, which will keep him out of action for eight months. While the away side have a host of young, promising midfielders battling to take his place in the side, Levein will be concerned that his side have lost not only experience in the centre of the park, but a player capable of both controlling games from deeper and driving forward in possession. For Djoum, a season hampered by injury has taken another painful turn.
Coyle can take belated positives from draw
For much of the game, there were very few positives for Owen Coyle to clasp to. After a dominant win away to Dundee last weekend - which seemed to come out of nowhere after a terrible run of form - the County manager would have been looking to build on that result against Hearts. Yet, despite another positive display from Jason Naismith and the occasional flicker from Davis Keillor-Dunn, the home side fell horribly flat. They conceded a soft goal to give Hearts the lead and offered very little in an attacking sense, with David Ngog and Alex Schalk seemingly on different wavelengths. Yet, with fifteen minutes to go, a Christopher Routis pass found Jason Naismith free in the box and he fired his effort past John McLaughlin. Ross County dominated the closing stages and could have scored again, had Schalk not been ruled offside. It wasn’t an impressive performance, but the home side’s battling qualities will have belatedly provided Coyle with something to smile about.
Scott Fox is unlikely to save Ross County
Rather than relying on their goalkeeper to save their season, Ross County are going to have to hope he doesn’t ultimately cost them. The 1-1 draw with Hearts was Scott Fox’s season in microcosm. After a couple of smart stops - from Joaquin Adao in the first half and John Souttar in the second - he blotted his copybook at Kyle Laferty’s goal. The striker’s free-kick was at a comfortable height for the keeper and wasn’t quite in the corner, but Fox misjudged the bounce and it flew into the net. It wasn’t Fox’s first major blunder of the season and with his replacement, Aaron McCarey, proving equally calamitous between the sticks, County will need to hope it’s his last.
Lafferty can make a difference, regardless of performance
Kyle Lafferty bagged his fourth goal in four games for Hearts, despite an otherwise underwhelming display. The Northern Irish forward struggled to find space in front of the Ross County defence and, when he did, his distribution was often sloppy. On more than one occasion in the first half he wasted promising opportunities with errant balls to teammates and he also struggled to hold the ball up effectively. Yet, he knows his way to goal and his well executed free-kick showed how important he is to Levein’s side, regardless of his overall performance.
Hearts’ change of formation let Ross County back into the game
After Lafferty’s goal, Hearts looked to be cruising to victory. Ross County had been poor throughout and their attacking players had been denied space by Hearts’ formation, which strung five men across midfield. It’s the same formation which has proven so effective since Craig Levein’s arrival but, for some reason, the manager chose to switch to a 4-4-2 in order to see the game out. Perhaps the aim was to punish County on the counter-attack, but it didn’t work. Instead, it opened up space in front of the Hearts defence, most notably out wide. It was from there that the home side mounted their comeback.