In a game littered with injury-enforced substitutions, Hearts lost half of their outfield players. All five of their changes during the match were because of injuries while hosts Dundee United also had to change Ryan Edwards because of a bad head collision.
United overhauled Liam Boyce’s first-minute opener in the second half with Liam Smith’s spectacular strike and a Nicky Clark penalty. Halkett’s header from a corner nine minutes before the end rescued a point for the bruised Edinburgh side.
A total of seven bookings were issued by referee Willie Collum in a game which lacked nothing in aggression but was never nasty.
Following three games without victory, the onus was on United to boost their top-six ambitions by garnering three points on a sunny Tayside afternoon. Hearts were no longer concerned with merely finishing in the top half of the division. Their clear target is third and a place in Europe.
The travelling support were in full voice before kick-off and they erupted after only 52 seconds when Boyce opened the scoring. Barrie McKay fed Gary Mackay-Steven and his ball to Boyce was ruthlessly driven across Benjamin Siegrist into the far orner of the net by the striker’s left foot.
Only an instinctive reaction by Siegrist’s right leg prevented Ilmari Niskanen inadvertently doubling the visitors’ advantage after the Finnish winger slid in to intercept Cammy Devlin’s attempted through ball.
At the opposite end, Hearts had John Souttar to thank for a last-second interception on the six-yard line to stop Ian Harkes shooting. However, manager Robbie Neilson’s management skills were being severely testd by repeated injuries.
Mackay-Steven and Devlin were forced off before Alex Cochrane, Mackay-Steven’s replacement, went down with a head knock after a particularly robust aerial challenge from United’s Calum Butcher. Andy Halliday became the third substitute of the afternoon.
Hearts striker Ellis Simms exacted an element of revenge by clattering into Ryan Edwards, who was next to be withdrawn with a face full of blood as a bruising first half continued. Another change at the break saw Josh Ginnelly replace Nathaniel Atkinson whilst ensuring fourth official Dan McFarlane was earning his wages.
United wasted no time equalising once play resumed. The former Tynecastle defender Smith dispatched a powerful effort from 25 yards beyond Craig Gordon with only ten seconds of the second half gone.
The hosts moved ahead from the penalty spot before the hour. Souttar fouled Clark just inside the area and the striker confidently stroked the resultant penalty into the bottom corner.
Hearts had lost their way and looked slightly disjointed as a result of the incessant alterations to their team. They were soon deprived of Souttar as another injury transpired and Toby Sibbick entered the fray.
To their credit, those in maroon regrouped quickly. Simms’ attempt was deflected wide before Halkett rose to meet McKay’s corner and plant a precise angled header downwards into the corner of United’s net.
That was sufficient to rescue a point but Hearts will feel slightly aggrieved at failing to win after 65 per cent possession and 14 goal attempts. To compound their frustration, Ginnelly was seen limping from the field at full-time – the visitors’ sixth injury of a punishing day.
Dundee Utd (3-5-2): Siegrist; Butcher, Edwards (Neilson 44), Graham; Niskanen, Smith, McDonald, Harkes, McMann (Sporle 76); Clark, McNulty.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Atkinson (Ginnelly 46), Souttar (Sibbick 60), Halkett, Kingsley; Devlin (Haring 30), Baningime; McKay, Boyce, Mackay-Steven (Cochrane 8 (Halliday 39)); Simms.
Referee: Willie Collum.