Hearts debrief: Improving Humphyrs; Nice new shape; Defensive problem; Cochrane's sitter

A look back at the talking points and takeaways from Hearts’ 2-0 cinch Premiership defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH

Stephen Humphrys is growing in stature every week and the on-loan Wigan Athletic frontman turned in another strong performance. Deployed in a front two for the first time alongside Lawrence Shankland, the Englishman held the ball up and linked well with Barrie McKay. He didn’t take his chance when it came, but his power and pace in behind was an effective attacking weapon and he should have had an assist for teeing up a sitter for Alex Cochrane. Humphrys just edges out Craig Gordon and Robert Snodrgrass, who controlled the middle of the pitch in the first half but tired in the second.

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DEFINING MOMENT

Alex Cochrane can't believe he's missed. Picture: Craig Foy / SNS

Peter Haring’s nasty head injury in the closing minutes summed up how things are going for Hearts. The Austrian was introduced from the bench in the 82nd minute for the tiring Snodgrass, but just four minutes later he was on the receiving end of a nasty, accidental clash of heads with Aberdeen’s Marley Watkins. The instant reaction from players all around made clear just how serious it was and after a long medical delay the midfielder was stretchered off. After Andy Halliday’s withdrawal inside the first ten minutes, it was another stroke of bad fortune on the injury front and the last thing Hearts need.

CHANCES MISSED

Alex Cochrane made up for an inexplicable miss by laying one on a plate for Lawrence Shankland. It was a more difficult opportunity for the striker at the front post, but he didn’t get the connection required and squirted his side-foot effort wide off target. Cochrane’s poor connection in the first half was much harder to fathom. Humphrys did well to slide the ball across the face of goal and all the unmarked left-back needed to do from five yards was side-foot into an empty net. Instead, he couldn’t sort out his feet and an awkward stab trundled into the arms of grateful Aberdeen goalkeeper Kelle Roos.

TACTICAL OBSERVATIONS

Robbie Neilson’s change of shape to 3-4-1-2 was perhaps tactical or perhaps forced upon him by the personnel he had available, but it worked pretty well. Robert Snodgrass and Kio took control of the midfield early on and Barrie McKay was afforded freedom to drift and find space in behind a front two of Humphyrs and Shankland. On the minus side, it meant Alan Forrest had defensive duties in a deeper role wide on the right and that didn’t particularly suit him. Stephen Kingsley looked more comfortable on the left-hand side, but lack of continuity and experience in defence – both Lewis Neilson and Toby Sibbick were guilty of mistakes – is still a problem.

REF WATCH

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The last referee to take charge of a Premiership game without the help of VAR, Don Robertson probably did Hearts a favour by turning down a strong Aberdeen penalty claim in the 13th minute for Kio’s challenge on Duk. Lewis Neilson was fortunate to escape a booking in the build up to that incident too, Robertson giving Aberdeen a good advantage but letting the Hearts defender off the hook. Jorge Grant was perhaps fortunate to only receive a yellow card for his rash challenge in front of the Aberdeen dugout.

WHAT’S NEXT

It doesn’t get any easier, with champions Celtic up next at Tynecastle on Saturday. On the plus side, Hearts don’t have another midweek match to contend with.