The popular phrase is teenage dirtbags, but the crop of burgeoning youngsters at Tynecastle will become teenage moneybags for Hearts if they continue progressing. This functional 2-0 win over Dundee was notable for the contributions of 16-year-olds Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane, plus 19-year-old Lewis Moore.
Esmael Goncalves and Christophe Berra scored the goals, but McDonald was instrumental in both. His clever through ball teed up Goncalves in the first half before his corner eventually landed at Berra to secure Hearts’ second successive win - and stretch their unbeaten run to five matches.
The home team played for 45 minutes with all three teenagers in their four-man midfield after Arnaud Djoum departed through injury. Prince Buaben, at 29, became the babysitter in the centre of the pitch looking after wingers McDonald and Moore and fellow central midfielder Cochrane. He didn’t need to exert much fatherly influence, for these young Hearts were running free all on their own.
The Edinburgh club have previously fielded teens Jamie Brandon, Alex Petkov, Daniel Baur, Aidan Keena, Rory Currie and Euan Henderson this season in addition to Moore and Cochrane. Manager Craig Levein added young McDonald to that list as further evidence of the Riccarton youth academy’s productivity. This next generation could, if nurtured properly, go on to star for years to come and potentially bring in a hefty profit further down the line.
Levein deserves credit for his bravery in playing all three at once. They certainly warmed the Hearts support on a bitterly cold and wet evening in Gorgie. McDonald and Moore started on the flanks before Cochrane’s enforced introduction for Djoum on 31 minutes. All three had an influence in an efficient display from the hosts.
McDonald’s role was to attack from wide on the right but he is able to play on the left and centrally. On the opposite side from him, the versatile Pole Rafal Grzelak made a return at left-back. The talismanic Jamie Walker sat out through a hamstring complaint and top goalscorer Kyle Lafferty was rested ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Celtic. That meant a return for Cole Stockton. Dundee reinstated defender Kerr Waddell, mindful that his double gave them victory against Hearts at Dens Park back in September.
As the rain trickled down on Tynecastle Park, this was never likely to be a classic encounter. Dundee are fighting to move clear of the Premiership’s relegation zone under manager Neil McCann and Hearts’ lack of attacking panache has been well documented this season already. That said, the hosts started in positive fashion eager to build on Saturday’s victory over Motherwell.
They pressed Dundee high up the pitch with an aggressive 4-4-2 formation. Djoum shot high over the target when he really ought to have slipped a pass to the unmarked McDonald on 11 minutes. The icy, driving rain may have impaired the Cameroonian’s vision somewhat as he strode forward with the ball from midfield.
Buaben then tried an attempt from 20 yards which struck the hand of the Dundee defender Josh Meekings. Referee Craig Thomson allowed play to continue, satisfied that Meekings’ arm was by his side and not in an unnatural position. Moments later, Stockton fastened on to Djoum’s through ball for a first-time shot which the visiting goalkeeper Elliot Parish did well to block.
Hearts’ dominance was interrupted momentarily when Dundee won a free-kick 25 yards from goal. Scott Allan took it, but his swerving shot was held by Jon McLaughlin, the home goalkeeper. Those in maroon responded instantly by taking the lead. McDonald scampered forward to dink a through ball towards Goncalves, who nudged off Waddell to slot the ball across Parish into the far corner.
It was a welcome assist for the debutant, but Hearts’ joy was tempered minutes later when Djoum trudged off injured. He had collided with Mark O’Hara in the centre circle five minutes previously and couldn’t shake off the impact. Cochrane took his place as the third teenager in a midfield which was getting progressively younger.
The visitors fashioned an opportunity a minute from half-time but, as McLaughlin saved at Roarie Deacon’s feet, the far side assistant referee had his flag up after Sofien Moussa’s initial shot. The half ended with an attempt by Moore which Parish saved. There was no denying Hearts deserved their interval advantage, however they could not afford to sit back and simply protect such a slender lead.
Stockton was denied his first goal in maroon by an offside flag early in the second period. The Taysiders were applying far more pressure than before the break, though. They switched to a four-man back line which served them better. Deacon hit the side netting before John Souttar’s timely challenge thwarted Moussa. Allan’s ambitious free-kick was then held by McLaughlin.
Dundee needed to score then, but couldn’t convert their play into a goal. Hearts knew a second would kill off their opponents and it should have arrived on 65 minutes. Stockton did brilliantly to control and hold up a clearance dropping out of the sky. He weighted a perfect through pass to substitute Ross Callachan, who sprinted through the middle. Callachan eyeballed Parish and shot but the goalkeeper produced a fine one-handed stop.
Lafferty entered the fray with 16 minutes remaining, and it wasn’t long before his team secured victory. Dundee failed to clear McDonald’s corner and the ball broke to Berra at the back post. He took a touch and steadied himself for a composed finish to tie up the three points – and a second Hearts home win inside four days.
Hearts (4-4-2): McLaughlin; Randall, Souttar, Berra, Grzelak; McDonald, Buaben, Djoum (Cochrane 32), Moore (Lafferty 73); Stockton, Goncalves (Callachan 57). Unused subs: Hamilton, M Smith, Cowie, Brandon.
Dundee (3-4-1-2): Parish; Hendry (Kerr 46), Waddell, Meekings; O’Hara, Kamara, McGowan (Leitch-Smith 74), Aurtenetxe; Allan; Deacon (El Bakhtaoui 73), Moussa. Unused subs: Ferrie, Holt, O’Dea, Haber.
Referee: C Thomson.