Hearts 0-2 Sunderland: Aiden McGeady double downs Jambos in friendly encounter
A sun-drenched Tynecastle Park wasn’t the typical setting for a pantomime villain but that didn’t stop Aiden McGeady from lapping up the jeers and putting the hosts to the sword in this friendly encounter a fortnight before his old team face Hearts in the Scottish Premiership opener.
The former Celtic favourite tucked away an early penalty and netted a second shortly before half-time to give a victory that was very harsh on the home side.
The players were still acclimatising themselves to each other and the hot summer sun when Lee Johnson’s men were given the ideal chance to open the scoring on 16 minutes.
A terrific infield pass from Tyrese Dyce found McGeady who then fed ex-Ross County striker Ross Stewart running through. His namesake, and former St Mirren team-mate, Ross Stewart dived out to win the ball but was adjudged to have taken the man first. McGeady stepped up and, with boos ringing in his ears, the Irishman international tucked away the spot-kick before sarcastically showing his appreciation to the crowd.
The goal sparked Hearts into life and for the next 25 minutes they were undoubtedly the better team. Sixteen-year-old midfielder Finlay Pollock forced a last-ditch block at the back-post, Craig Halkett had the keeper scrambling a cross ball and Liam Boyce fired over from a tight angle.
There was even a moment for the home fans to cheer when McGeady was booked for diving after going over easily in a challenge by Michael Smith. The defender saw the funny side, playfully slapping the cheeks of his opponent after it became clear the referee wasn’t buying it.
But while there were passages of impressive play, Hearts were often guilty of wasting their final ball or trying too much to walk it into the net. The crowd would later get on the back of John Souttar for attempting a cross when the opportunity was there to have a strike at goal.
Sunderland, meanwhile, made their periods of pressure count. Having been in a slumber for much of the half, they awoke with a ferocity in the last five minutes.
Aiden O'Brien had already missed a decent chance to double the advantage when he smashed the ball off the underside of the bar as Hearts struggled to clear a corner.
The second then arrived two minutes later when Lynden Gooch played in McGeady and he coolly finished past Stewart.
They didn’t relent there, either. Until the half-time whistle they bombarded the Hearts penalty area and could have had a couple more with Elliott Embleton forcing Stewart into a strong save before O'Brien passed up another opportunity.
Pre-season friendlies are, of course, often disrupted by the introduction of several substitutes from each side. Two of those made at the half did almost bring Hearts back into things as Aaron McEneff played in Euan Henderson. His cut-back found Pollock whose deflected shot lopped just over the bar.
Leo Watson and Mihai Popescu, part of an influx of changes made on 57 minutes, combined from a set-piece with the latter heading over after rising highest, while Connor Smith flashed a powerful strike off the base of the post.
That briefly brought the crowd to life, though not as much as McGeady when he walked from the field following his substitution.