Hearts 2-1 Ross County: Jambos win Premiership opener after Drew Busby tribute
A nervy afternoon at Tynecastle Park finished with a narrow but vital Hearts victory on the cinch Premiership’s opening day.
Alan Forrest and Barrie McKay put the hosts 2-0 ahead in the second half before substitute Jordan White struck for Ross County. The visitors’ excellent first-half performance unsettled the home side but they recovered to strike at crucial times after the interval.
Hearts would have been ultimately satisfied with three points after a performance which didn’t quite reach the heights of last season. Heading to Easter Road for next week’s Edinburgh derby, they have a bit of work to do.
County contributed enormously to what was an enjoyable and pretty clean game of football overall. Once again, they look a useful side with a clear attacking intent. Had they taken their scoring opportunities in the opening period, the outcome of this fixture would have been very different.
A large Tynecastle crowd paid tribute with a minute’s silence and tifo display in the Wheatfield Stand following the recent death of former Hearts forward Drew Busby. A niggling injury precluded defender Stephen Kingsley so Toby Sibbick stepped into the back three.
County lined up with several promising new signings from England’s lower divisions, one being striker Jordy Hiwula. They even took the luxury of leaving the ex-Swansea City midfielder Yan Dhanda on the substitutes’ bench.
The visitors dropped several early balls in behind the Hearts defence to use the pace of Hiwula and Dominic Samuel. It was the hosts combining more passes early on, often through the confident Michael Smith in a central midfield role.
County constructed a nice move down their left on 23 minutes as winger Owura Edwards crossed for Samuel. His header rebounded off the far post and Josh Simms could not convert the rebound, much to the relief of Craig Gordon in the home goal.
Edwards lashed a vicious attempt off the crossbar moments later as the Highlanders sensed the chance to exploit Hearts’ evident vulnerability. Gordon beat away Hiwula’s effort despite a deflection off Craig Halkett, and at that stage Ross County could deservedly have been 2-0 or 3-0 ahead.
Nathaniel Atkinson departed through injury and was replaced by Jorge Grant as Smith moved to right wing-back. A chance for Smith near the break went astray and, while County looked strong, it was clear their hosts needed to improve for the second half.
Forrest’s individual run and shot would have opened the scoring after 52 minutes but Connor Randall cleared almost on his own goal line. After an hour, the winger finally kicked Hearts into life. He combined with Grant and Alex Cochrane before stroking the wing-back’s low cross into the corner of the net past visiting goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw.
That settled many nerves around Tynecastle but Hearts still needed to be cautious of County’s threat. The visiting manager Malky Mackay introduced another striker in White. However, within seconds his team were 2-0 down.
Cochrane’s long ball from defence was exquisitely taken down by McKay inside the penalty box, and he patiently dribbled past Laidlaw’s dive before rolling the ball into an unguarded net.
White reduced the deficit with 11 minutes remaining to prove his team weren’t finished. He calmly knocked Jack Baldwin’s long ball past the advancing Gordon in a one-versus-one situation, and the 2-1 scoreline made for a tense ending.
Kye Rowles appealed for a penalty after appearing to be hauled down by Ross County substitute Callum Johnson, but referee David Dickinson was unmoved and Hearts saw the game out to begin the 2022/23 campaign with three points.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Sibbick, Halkett, Rowles; Atkinson (Grant 27), Haring, Smith, Cochrane; Forrest (Devlin 78), Shankland (Boyce 71), McKay (Halliday 78).
Ross County (4-2-3-1): Laidlaw; Randall (Johnson 81), Baldwin, Iacovitti, Purrington; Callachan, Tillson; Sims (Dhanda 63), Samuel (White 76), Edwards (Oglaibe 63); Hiwula.
Referee: David Dickinson.