Hearts debrief: Devlin mystery; Shape not working; Defensive lapses
A look back at Hearts’ 3-0 Premiership defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie, moving the home side to within four points in the race for third place.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Zander Clark made three good saves in the second half to keep the score down after being let down in the first half by those in front of him. The Scotland keeper was probably the only one to get pass marks.
The third goal summed up the poor defending and killed off any prospect of a fight-back. Leighton Clarkson's free-kick from out on the right should have been dealt with, but the high defensive line didn’t function well enough and Mattie Pollock was allowed to run into the box completely unchallenged to send a diving header past a frustrated Zander Clark. The defender is 6ft 3in and perhaps Aberdeen’s biggest aerial threat.
Not for the first time away from home, the midfield pairing was overrun by Aberdeen. Robert Snodgrass returned to partner Kio in the middle of the park, but Aberdeen had three in there. They also had far more energy and purpose, shutting down the supply to Snodgrass and controlling the game. Toby Sibbick was moved forward to bolster that area of the pitch when the second goal went in after 20 minutes and it helped, but the game was already lost by then. Hearts actually enjoyed 63 per cent possession, much of it was in their own half of the pitch and in the second period, when the game was dead.
BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT
Cammy Devlin was an unused substitute at Pittodrie and must feel he could have made a difference. The combative Australian has the kind of raw energy that Hearts were missing in the middle of the park, where Robert Snodgrass and Kio were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred. Sibbick was moved forward into midfield when Neilson recognised it and changed the shape after 20 minutes, but it is not the defender’s natural position so perhaps that was the time to bring Devlin on. In fact, maybe Devlin should have started, like he did at Celtic Park, where Hearts actually competed well and had good control of the game for an hour.
Maybe Barrie McKay should have been dropped to the bench after an indifferent run of form, with Devlin in his place. He’s not the only one. Alex Cochrane has been outstanding for a year and a half, but if Neilson had known the Englishman was going to perform as poorly as that, he would surely have started Stephen Kingsley instead.
Four of the six yellow cards shown by David Dickinson came from the same incident – a very strong but arguably fair tackle by James Hill on his two-goal nemesis Duk. It was right in front of the dugout, but it looked like Hill’s caution was for what he said in the Aberdeen striker’s ear afterwards. It prompted a brief melee, with players from each team wading in. Dickinson stood back, weighed it up and managed it well. Hearts had a couple of penalty shouts, but they were weak.
As Robbie Neilson put it himself, Hearts have two weeks to “stew” over this performance before travelling to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock after the international break on April 1. It’s a big one.