Any chance of a continuation of Hearts’ swashbuckling recent form was effectively killed off by a moment of rashness from Igor Rossi shortly before half-time at New Douglas Park yesterday.
The Brazilian defender’s two-footed tackle on Darren Lyon, on the edge of the Accies’ box, left his team with ten men for more than half the game. As they did at St Johnstone five weeks previously, when Juanma Delgado was dismissed before the break, the Tynecastle side remained resilient and left with a hard-earned point. It said much about the determination levels in Robbie Neilson’s squad, however, that, as Bobby Madden’s final whistle sounded, several players wearing maroon could be seen slumping to the ground in disappointment. Even playing a man down, they felt they should have been leaving Lanarkshire with a third consecutive win, a notion backed up by the fact both Blazej Augustyn and teenage substitute Dario Zanatta headed against the crossbar in the second half. In fairness, it was a tightly-contested game that could have gone either way, although the late dismissal of Accies substitute Jesus Garcia-Tena, for a reckless tackle on Arnaud Djoum, allowed the visitors to finish in the ascendancy.
“It was probably the most eventful game you’ll get without goals,” said Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson. “We started pretty well at one of the hardest places to come, it was quite windy with the ball blowing everywhere and they really competed well off the back of a bad result [an 8-1 defeat at Celtic]. The first 30 minutes were good, we created some opportunities and had we stayed with 11 men we would have won the game but with ten we had to sit in and defend. I didn’t feel we were under too much pressure and we were also a threat on the break.”
Neilson, who usually tinkers with his team on a game-to-game basis, picked the same XI that crushed Motherwell 6-0 eight days previously. That meant a fourth successive league start for Billy King, while Gavin Reilly, another player who endured a frustrating first half of the season, started a sixth consecutive match in all competitions. The two marquee summer signings, Juwon Oshaniwa and Juanma, again had to be content with a place on the subs’ bench.
After a low-key opening, Hamilton’s Ali Crawford had the first attempt on goal but his 14th minute free-kick from just outside the box was easily held by Neil Alexander. Seconds later Lyon jinked in from the right and pinged a shot just over the bar from 15 yards out.
Hearts’ first opening of the match came in the 18th minute when Rossi met Alim Ozturk’s free-kick at the back post and saw his shot beaten away by Michael McGovern. The rebound fell to Callum Paterson in a central position ten yards out but his strike was held by the Accies goalkeeper.
Following a lull in proceedings, Hearts striker Osman Sow was put through on goal by a Miguel Pallardo pass, but the Swede snatched at his shot from just outside the box and pulled it well wide. Two minutes later, Prince Buaben cut in from the left and drilled a low shot harmlessly wide from 16 yards out.
Hearts should have gone ahead in the 36th minute when Buaben dinked a cross into the path of King on the right, but the winger’s powerful angled strike was beaten away by McGovern. As Hamilton tried to clear the danger in the immediate aftermath of that chance, Rossi challenged Lyon in a clumsy fashion, leaving both players lying injured on the New Douglas plastic. “I thought it was a lunge, a clumsy lunge,” said Lyon. “I just saw his two feet fly into me and tried to avoid it as much as I could. He caught me a bit but if he had caught me cleanly I would probably have been out for a wee while.”
The incident led to a mass melee among the rest of the players and, when the dust eventually settled a few minutes later and Rossi was shown a straight red card, the pumped-up Brazilian had to be led off the pitch by captain Alim Ozturk as he protested that he had come off just as badly as Lyon in an ugly challenge. “I just tried to avoid him [during the tackle],” said the Accies player, dismissing any suggestion that he had been equally reckless. “I’m not really sure that I caught him but he was rolling about.”
Ozturk was one of three other players booked in the aftermath, with team-mate Prince Buaben and Hamilton midfielder Darian MacKinnon, who was prominently involved when Callum Paterson was wrongly sent off at the same venue five months ago, also cautioned. The Hearts skipped felt hard done by as he insisted he was only guilty of trying to keep the peace.
“I said to Igor to shake his [Lyon’s] hand,” said Ozturk. “I was scared for his reaction after being sent off so I tried to keep him away from the referee. I got a yellow card as well – I don’t know why. I was just trying to keep my team-mate away. I did nothing. At first I was trying to stop Blazej, then Igor. Then the ref said ‘come here’. I couldn’t understand it.”
Hearts immediately sent Jordan McGhee on to replace the dismissed Brazilian at left-back, with striker Reilly sacrificed. The visitors made their second substitution of the match at the interval when Zanatta replaced King.
Although a man down, Hearts coped reasonably comfortably with Accies in the early stages of the second half. Crawford and Dougie Imrie both threatened either side of an Ozturk free-kick that sailed harmlessly over the bar. However, for all that the hosts were enjoying the lion’s share of the possession, it wasn’t until the 64th minute that Alexander was properly called into the action, with the Hearts goalkeeper diving down to his right to claw out a goal-bound Mikey Devlin header.
Hearts, who were an occasional threat on the counter-attack, sensed they could win the game and they almost went ahead in the 75th minute when Augustyn powered a header off the bar after meeting an Ozturk cross six yards out. The numbers were evened up with four minutes left when Garcia-Tena was shown a straight red card for a wild lunge on Djoum. From the resulting free-kick, Zanatta’s six-yard header came back off the bar. Hearts finished in the ascendancy, with substitute Juanma almost forcing a close-range effort in right at the death. In the end, the Edinburgh side had to settle for a point that took them eight clear in third place and maintained an impressive run in which they have lost only one league game in 15 since September. How Martin Canning must dream of boasting such numbers. Nonetheless, the embattled Accies manager, whose team have won only once since September, was pleased with the way his side responded to last Tuesday’s 8-1 drubbing away to Celtic. “It would have been nice to have won the game having played against ten men for 50 minutes but Hearts are an experienced team and sit off the game and it’s difficult to break them down,” he said.