Hearts debrief: Robbie Neilson's David Pleat moment and Craig Gordon's big milestone

Reflections on the 1-1 draw Scottish Premiership draw between Hearts and Livingston at Tynecastle Park, where too many VAR delays was the big post-match talking point.


Craig Gordon has had a couple of lapses over recent weeks, but the Sean Kelly penalty save with his feet and superb diving stop to keep out Jack Fitzwater’s header were reminders – not that any were really needed – of his quality and value to the team. It was also a fitting way for the goalkeeper, who will be 40 next month, to mark his 700th senior appearance for club and country.

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“Big players produce big moments and that’s Craig, isn’t it?” said manager Robbie Neilson. “Since day one when he came back here, when you need him at a big moment he produces 99 times out of 100. He’s done it again. He goes away for international duty and I think that’s now 700 games he’s played. He just keeps getting better and better.”

Craig Gordon saves a penalty from Livingston's Sean Kelly, keeping Hearts in the match and setting up a grandstand finish. Picture: SNS


When Robbie Neilson sprinted onto the pitch to celebrate the late equaliser, it brought back memories of David Pleat’s Luton Town jig in the early 80s and Brian Kidd and Alex Ferguson watching Steve Bruce’s late Manchester United winner against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.

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Neilson wasn’t the only one frustrated by the VAR “shambles” and when Josh Ginnelly rifled home the 97th-minute equaliser to snatch a point, the Hearts boss momentarily lost control. Sprinting 15 yards onto the pitch with both fists clenched and arms pumping in jubilation, he then turned to face the main stand and let his raw emotions take over. “It was out of pure frustration after what a shambles of a day it become,” he later explained.

Neilson was yellow carded afterwards, but David Martindale had absolutely no complaints. “For me that’s football,” said the Livingston boss. “I want to see that passion and emotion. I’ve got to take it on the chin when it goes against me. Fair play to Robbie. I’d have probably done the same.”

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There was nothing particularly unusual about the Hearts shape or tactics, but matches against Livingston are often difficult to negotiate because of the way David Martindale’s team play to their strengths. Defending crosses is one of them, using targetman Joel Nouble as a battering ram who can dribble and weave his way forward while swatting defenders aside is another. Renowned for their workrate, indomitable spirit and organisation, they are also quite content to give up possession and territory.

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Hearts enjoyed 73% and created a few chances, but there was a lack of fluency to their play and a lack of quality in the final third when it really mattered – until Ginnelly’s equaliser. What Hearts did show for the second consecutive week was incredible resolve and character to come from behind with ten men and avoid defeat.


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Referee Craig Napier took the flak on the pitch after another game spoiled by VAR. John Beaton was making the big calls back in mission control, but it took far too long for decisions to be reached. “Shambles” was how Robbie Neilson described it afterwards. David Martindale pretty much agreed. Livingston’s penalty was a good decision picked up by VAR, even if the red card was difficult to fathom. The shirt pull didn’t deny Nouble a goal-scoring opportunity. The big striker still got his shot away cleanly and Gordon made a save.


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Hearts don’t play a competitive game for five weeks as the World Cup, then jump back into the frying pan with five league games in 16 days over the festive period. That begins against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle on December 17, followed by games against St Mirren, Dundee United, St Johnstone and Hibs.