Hearts upstage Beyonce to give their European hopes renewed vigour against Aberdeen
Regardless what razzmatazz and dramatics Beyonce produces at Murrayfield, performance of the day in Edinburgh belonged to Hearts. They came from behind with a gutsy and at-times thrilling display against Aberdeen which adds renewed vigour to their hopes of finishing third in the Premiership.
After Mattie Pollock’s header put the visitors ahead, Josh Ginnelly’s stunning equaliser levelled the scores by half-time before Lawrence Shankland’s calm finish earned a 2-1 victory. That brings Hearts to within two points of third-placed Aberdeen with two league games remaining. The team sitting third at the end of the season will potentially secure guaranteed European group-stage football.
Beyonce’s concert across the West Approach Road on Saturday evening was due to draw many thousands of fans, but those at Tynecastle were treated to a fine afternoon’s entertainment in this early kick-off. Hearts needed every ounce of desire and craft to unlock a well-organised Pittodrie back line despite repeated attempts at goal. They showed the necessary patience and persistence paid off in the end, sparking wide celebrations in Gorgie at full-time.
Aberdeen arrived in Edinburgh weakened by the absence of joint-top goalscorer Duk through injury, plus suspended captain Graeme Shinnie and recovering defender Ross McCrorie. They gave wing-back Jayden Richardson his first start since December, while forward Marley Watkins made the team for the first time since October. Midfield Connor Barron was back from injury for his maiden start of 2023.
By contrast, Hearts welcomed back defenders Alex Cochrane from suspension and Michael Smith after injury. They needed an aggressive start and Shankland tested the visiting goalkeeper Kelle Roos with a left-footed attempt. Roos then repelled Yutaro Oda’s powerful drive with an outstretched leg.
Watkins responded on a counter-attack which ended with Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark stopping his low shot. Challenges were uncompromising from both sides and the tempo remained ferocious with so much at stake.
Aberdeen earned a breakthrough after half an hour – and again it was a set-piece which those in maroon didn’t defend sufficiently. Leighton Clarkson’s textbook corner to the back post was missed by Clark in the air and Pollock nodded the ball home.
Cochrane and Shankland both saw shots blocked by Angus MacDonald and Roos respectively minutes later as the hosts’ frustration grew. Ross also produced a superb one-handed save from the lively Oda. Just as fireworks exploded into the Gorgie sky on 42 minutes with fans applauding to mark Hearts supporter David Stewart’s recent passing, Ginnelly produced a perfectly-timed equaliser.
He collected Barrie McKay’s pass and stepped forward unchallenged to dispatch a spectacular right-footed effort high into the Aberdeen net from 25 yards. Hearts had more than 70 per cent possession in the first half and recorded 18 shots at goal compared to their opponents’ six. They were entitled to feel their endeavours should have yielded more by the interval.
Ten minutes after the restart, that further reward arrived. A flowing passing move worked the ball out left for Cochrane to cross, and Shankland was in place to cushion his 27th goal of the campaign past Roos. It was to prove a decisive intervention in the context of this encounter.
The game ebbed and flowed for the rest of the afternoon with Aberdeen chasing an equaliser and Hearts knowing a third goal would kill the contest. A glaring chance to secure victory fell to Forrest on 84 minutes, but the substitute side-footed the ball wide of target from 12 yards.
After more than eight minutes of injury-time, including a nasty clash of heads between Nathaniel Atkinson and Pollock, the final whistle sounded to confirm that Hearts’ European credentials are suddenly looking far stronger.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Clark; Atkinson, Sibbick, Rowles, Cochrane; Devlin, Haring (Kiomourtzoglou 86); Oda (Forrest 76), Shankland, McKay (Smith 76); Ginnelly (Grant 65).
Aberdeen (3-5-2): Roos; Pollock, MacDonald (MacKenzie 60), Scales; Richardson, Ramadani (Bavidge 87), Barron (Marros 60), Clarkson, Hayes (Duncan 60); Watkins (Markandy 79), Miovski.
Referee: Kevin Clancy.