Hearts completed their pre-season programme with a strong display against an impressive Newcastle United side in an entertaining friendly at Tynecastle.
With work continuing on the development of the new main stand, only three stands were operational, creating an unusual scene in the Gorgie ground. The 10,001 supporters in attendance were treated to some enjoyable summer fare as a first-half double from Dwight Gayle ultimately proved enough to give the English Premier League new boys victory, but Hearts, whose goal came from man-of-the-matchJamie Walker, competed well enough to suggest they are in good fettle for their competitive opener away to Elgin City in the Betfred Cup on Tuesday.
Hearts head coach Ian Cathro gave home debuts to Michael Smith, Ashley Smith-Brown, Cole Stockton and Christophe Berra – eight-and-a-half years after his last appearance at Tynecastle – while the other two summer signings, Kyle Lafferty and Rafal Grzelak, were listed among the substitutes. The much-hyped Northern Irish striker, who featured in both of his team’s friendlies on the Emerald Isle earlier this month, would remain on the bench for the duration of the evening.
Newcastle wheeled out their strongest team for their first visit to Tynecastle since 1995 and they were backed by a raucous 1468-strong travelling support relishing their upcoming return to the Premier League after winning the Championship title last season. Despite this being their first pre-season friendly of the summer, the Magpies showed no signs of rustiness as they pinned Hearts back during a dominant opening ten minutes.
They signalled their intent within two minutes when Rolando Aarons smacked an effort against Jack Hamilton’s crossbar from 15 yards out. The Hearts goalkeeper was beaten in the third minute, however, when Siem De Jong’s through ball split the home defence and Gayle ran on unchecked to slot clinically into the net from the edge of the box.
Newcastle looked hungry to add to their lead as they continued peppering Hamilton’s goal with shots, with Aarons, Mo Diame, Ciaran Clark and Christian Atsu all trying their luck with efforts from distance.
Hearts almost conjured an equaliser with their first notable attempt of the game after 12 minutes but Esmael Goncalves’s goalbound strike from 30 yards out was brilliantly clawed behind by Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot.
With quarter of an hour gone, the visiting supporters broke into a chant of “One Bradley Lowery” in memory of the tragic six-year-old Sunderland fan who was laid to rest yesterday after losing his battle with cancer. The Hearts supporters responded by applauding and twirling their scarves for a sustained period, creating a poignant scene.
The hosts were presented with a golden opportunity to equalise in the 18th minute when the lively Walker was tripped in the box by Newcastle left-back Massado Haidara as he cut in from the right. Hearts haven’t exactly made the most of the penalties they have won in recent seasons, however, and Goncalves added to the long list of misses by blazing his kick high into the Roseburn Stand.
Despite this setback, Hearts required only another minute to get themselves on level terms as Walker nipped in to drill a low, angled shot past Elliot from eight yards out after Stockton had laid a Goncalves pass into his path.
Chances continued to come at a steady rate at both ends of the pitch, and De Jong saw his header well-saved by Hamilton in the 21st minute after he connected with a Jonjo Shelvey corner in a central position. Another Shelvey corner, four minutes later, led to Newcastle restoring their lead as the midfielder’s delivery sailed over Hamilton and was nodded in by Gayle at the back post. The visitors almost scored again when Aarons’ cross from the left dropped onto the top of the crossbar.
Hearts were growing stronger as the half progressed, however, and Goncalves saw a swerving shot from 25 yards out come back off the inside of the post. Walker then saw an acrobatic volley beaten out by Elliot before Goncalves had a downward header brilliantly clawed out by the Newcastle goalkeeper after the former St Mirren forward had met a cross from Smith.
Goncalves was then just short of connecting with an inviting diagonal pass from Prince Buaben at the far post as the hosts finished the first period on the front foot.
Newcastle made several changes at the interval and they almost forced a third goal in the 55th minute. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s low cross was fumbled towards his own goal by Hamilton, forcing Aaron Hughes, a former Magpies player, to clear off his own line. The Hearts goalkeeper acted far more impressively when he recovered to stop Henri Saivet driving in the rebound from the edge of the box.
There were significantly fewer chances after the break as both teams made a raft of substitutions, but there remained enough of an edge to the match to keep the crowd interested to the end, with warm applause from both sets of supporters greeting the full-time whistle at the end of an engrossing warm-up match.
Hearts: Hamilton, Hughes, Nowak, Berra, Smith, Cowie, Buaben, Smith-Brown, Walker, Stockton, Goncalves. Subs: Noring, Lafferty, Grzelak, McGhee, Brandon, Currie, Cochrane, Sammon, Beith, Martin, Petkov.
Newcastle: Elliot, Clark, Lascelles, Shelvey, Gayle, Diame, De Jong, Aarons, Mbemba, Haidara, Atsu. Subs: Woodman, Dummett, Colback, Hanley, Perez, Lejeune, Saivet, Duarte, Armstrong, Mitrovic.
Ref: Willie Collum