Hearts start new season with a comfortable win at Peterhead as one player in particular stands out

Gary Mackay-Steven gives Hearts the lead at Peterhead.Gary Mackay-Steven gives Hearts the lead at Peterhead.
Gary Mackay-Steven gives Hearts the lead at Peterhead.
A confident display by winger Gary Mackay-Steven underpinned Hearts’ winning start to the new season at Peterhead.

The Tynecastle side enjoyed a comfortable 2-0 victory in Aberdeenshire and could have scored more against League One opponents in their first Premier Sports Cup tie.

Mackay-Steven and Liam Boyce struck in each half, with the Scotland internationalist looking in excellent form. He should have claimed a third from a low cross but his incisive runs and crosses made for an impressive performance added to his goal.

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The result puts Robbie Neilson’s team top of Group A ahead of Cove Rangers’ visit to Edinburgh on Tuesday.

An undefeated pre-season campaign gave Hearts, led by newly-appointed captain Craig Gordon, plenty encouragement for the start of serious action. More than ten weeks since their last competitive game at Raith Rovers, the Premier Sports Cup is a prelude to their cinch Premiership return.

The Edinburgh club lost at Balmoor four years ago at the same stage of the same competition under former head coach Ian Cathro, a warning of the potentially hazardous nature of this tie. They arrived without French forward Armand Gnanduillet due to a tight thigh and faced a depleted Peterhead team nursing injuries.

A total of 246 locals gained entry to this match, the first time the hosts had welcomed supporters since the pandemic struck 16 months ago. New Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Billy Dodds was in attendance to watch two of his club’s Group A rivals.

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With wing-backs advancing in a 3-4-3 formation, the visitors tried using quick forward balls to send wingers Josh Ginnelly and Mackay-Steven in behind the opposition defence. It took half an hour for that tactic to produce a breakthrough.

Stephen Kingsley’s long ball was flicked on by Mackay-Steven, who then chased his own header and charged forward with the ball. He darted between Peterhead defenders Danny Strachan and Josh Mulligan to slot a composed finish beyond goalkeeper Lenny Wilson for a fine individual goal.

Boyce stung Wilson’s palms from 22 yards six minutes later. Peterhead competed well and won a series of first-half free-kicks inside the Hearts half. Striker Russell McLean, a former Riccarton youth player, caused some problems with his physicality.

Boyce glanced a free header wide of target from Aaron McEneff’s left-sided free-kick early in the second half. Moments later, Peter Haring side-footed Michael Smith’s cutback over the crossbar.

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McLean hustled John Souttar in pursuit of a bouncing ball on 52 minutes and succeeded in flicking it over the emerging Gordon’s head but wide of target. Haring, Boyce and Craig Halkett then exchanged angry words after Peterhead seized possession inside the Hearts penalty area following a careless goal kick routine.

Jim McInally’s team had their guests rattled, although Boyce extinguished the prosperity by converting Smith’s cross from close range just before the hour. At 2-0 up, Hearts could relax.

Mackay-Steven missed a glaring chance for a third goal from Alex Cochrane’s cross and his colleagues finished the afternoon strongly. By full-time there could be no argument over the final scoreline.

Peterhead (4-2-3-1): Wilson; Strachan (Brown 64), Mulligan (Cook 60), McDonald, Conroy; Ferry, McCarthy; Payne (Lyle 72), Ritchie, Cameron; McLean.

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Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; Smith, McEneff (Walker 60), Haring, Cochrane (Halliday 83); Ginnelly (Pollock 60), Boyce (Henderson 83), Mackay-Steven (Roberts 70).

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