Hearts gift bottom club another three points by giving them a goal to defend

Andy Driver holds his head after Dundee goalkeeper Rab Douglas pulled off another fine save
Andy Driver holds his head after Dundee goalkeeper Rab Douglas pulled off another fine save
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JOHN McGLYNN didn’t mince his words in the slightest.

Hearts’ performance at Dens Park was the worst of his reign so far and he never shirked from that fact. If you hadn’t seen the game but just McGlynn’s sullen look at full-time, it would have told the entire story as Hearts dropped to ninth in the Scottish Premier League. The manager wasn’t happy and few could blame him.

Matt Lockwood’s 22nd-minute goal secured Dundee’s second win of a fairly wretched campaign to date. Both those victories have come against Hearts, much to McGlynn’s anguish. The only other point garnered by the SPL’s bottom club was at Rugby Park on the season’s opening day. Little wonder their support chanted “can we play you every week” at Saturday’s visitors.

Ultimately, Hearts suffered for a lack of creativity. Too many deliveries into the Dundee penalty area were of the airborne variety, especially in the second half. Width was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, balls were lofted into the box from deep and strikers John Sutton and Callum Paterson could do little with them with their backs frequently to goal and Dundee defenders breathing down their necks.

After taking the lead through Lockwood’s exquisite set-piece, Dundee showed commendable defensive resolve. Their centre-back pairing of Kyle Benedictus and Declan Gallagher – aged 20 and 21 respectively – were assured and mature beyond their years. They also hit on the break and came close to increasing their advantage through Colin Nish and substitute John Baird.

It has been said before that McGlynn’s best quality is his honesty. His assessment of the 90 minutes was both blunt and candid. “We might have snuck a draw but we didn’t do enough to win the game,” he said. “We had a couple of headers towards the end that might have got us a point. However, we never reached the levels of performance that we have been achieving. Playing extra-time and penalties on Wednesday night might have something to do with it but I don’t want to make excuses.

“It’s the second game where we’ve given Dundee all the encouragement they’ve needed. We started a little bit slack, they get encouragement, they get a goal and then they’ve got something to fight for. This is the second time that’s happened against them. They had a 1-0 goal lead to defend, they put their heads in front of the ball and got blocks in. Fair play to them, they defended very well.

“Marius Zaliukas had a great header that he should’ve scored with near the end and there was another one across the face of goal. Bits and pieces . . . but it was one of those days where we never really got going. I would put it down to an off day because we have been playing quite consistently. Maybe not always getting the results we deserved but we felt our performances were good. On Saturday, that wasn’t necessarily the case.”

McGlynn knows the buck stops with him and fans will look to him to eradicate the inconsistency which has blighted Hearts’ league campaign. They are in the semi-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup and both displays against Liverpool in the Europa League were impressive, particularly at Anfield. Bread-and-butter league games present problems that need fixing, though.

“We have a squad of players,” said McGlynn when asked if he would have preferred to make more changes following Hearts’ midweek cup win on penalties at Tannadice. “We had options, we put Gordon Smith, Andy Driver and Jamie Walker on as subs. Novikovas had a knock in the first half but he got through that. We took him off because he put a lot of effort into the game the other night and we felt we needed some fresh legs to go on to give us a wee spark. Smith, Driver and Walker gave us that to some extent.”

Two positives to emerge from the afternoon from Hearts’ perspective were the performances of Smith and Walker. The striker spoke last week about trying to impress, and he replaced John Sutton to deliver an energetic and enthusiastic display. He also attempted to link play to carve open the rigid Dundee defence. Walker is still finding his feet at senior level but offered an unpredictability on the ball that few of his colleagues could match.

Even Marius Zaliukas, partly culpable for Dundee’s goal, was utilised up front in an attempt to prise an equalising goal. But to no avail. The Lithuanian had needlessly dunted Gary Irvine in the back for the free-kick which Lockwood dispatched beyond the helpless Jamie MacDonald midway through the first half.

“It is a great free-kick and I don’t think any goalkeeper is stopping that,” said Barry Smith, the Dundee manager. “Matty has been in and out the team, but his two performances show what he’s capable of and how good a player he actually is.”

Hearts’ response to falling behind saw the Dundee goalkeeper Rab Douglas save efforts from Mehdi Taouil and Arvydas Novikovas. Nish then rounded MacDonald and would have made the score 2-0 had Zaliukas not blocked his effort on goal. The former Hibs striker was denied by Andy Webster in the second half, whilst MacDonald also pushed an effort from the Dundee substitute John Baird to safety.

Lockwood aside, Dundee’s most impressive player was the Edinburgh-born winger Nicky Riley. “Nicky gives you that out-ball and his pace allows you to knock that ball when you are under pressure,” said Smith.

Riley was precisely the type of player Hearts were missing on a day when they reached a new low for this season. The aim now is to recapture the form that saw them secure a 1-1 draw away to Liverpool just over two months ago. That would bring the smile back to McGlynn’s face.