How Hearts suffered a European hit as Barry Robson strengthened his chances of the Aberdeen job

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Hearts’ chances of European qualification suffered a dunt at Pittodrie as Aberdeen strengthened their own hopes of a continental adventure next season.

A comfortable 3-0 victory for the home team pulled them to within four points of third-place Hearts thanks to two goals from Duk and one from Mattie Pollock. Aberdeen’s intensity and aggression in the first half overwhelmed Hearts, whose midfield were off the pace allied to sub-standard defending.

The Edinburgh club won 5-0 when these clubs last met at Tynecastle Park in January, however they have managed only three victories at Pittodrie since 2010. They never looked in any danger of adding a fourth and managed no shots on target to Aberdeen’s six. The result further endorsed interim manager Barry Robson’s credentials to become the permanent Aberdeen boss.

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In truth, this fixture was over as a contest before the half-hour mark as the locals built a commanding three-goal advantage. Hearts remain third in the Premiership entering the international break but need to address poor away performances which are resurfacing too often.

Aberdeen entered this fixture in decent form with three wins in five games under Robson, who recalled goalkeeper Kelle Roos to the starting line-up. Hearts welcomed captain Lawrence Shankland, midfielder Robert Snodgrass and wing-back Alex Cochrane back from injury.

The hosts’ recent momentum continued with the opening goal inside five minutes. Graeme Shinnie evaded the visiting midfielder Barrie McKay to deliver a low left-footed cross. Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark’s outstretched arm touched the ball and altered its trajectory, denying Kye Rowles a clean strike to clear. The Australian consequently sent the ball spinning into the air and Duk, from eight yards, volleyed it first-time beyond Clark with the aid of a slight deflection.

On 20 minutes, Duk glanced the second goal home from Pollock’s right-sided cross to leave Hearts staring at defeat with less than a quarter of this match played. Tynecastle players argued among themselves after Pollock was given time and space to deliver a telling ball.

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The third arrived seven minutes later to expose more questionable Hearts defending. Leighton Clarkson’s deep free-kick was met by Pollock on the run, and he dived unchallenged to head past Clark. At 3-0, it was already game over. Aberdeen supporters celebrated with a chant of “One Barry Robson”.

Duk's strike put Aberdeen 1-0 up against Hearts at Pittodrie.Duk's strike put Aberdeen 1-0 up against Hearts at Pittodrie.
Duk's strike put Aberdeen 1-0 up against Hearts at Pittodrie.

Robbie Neilson switched Hearts from a back three to a four and Duk’s 25-yard attempt early in the second half was pushed over by Clark. Moments later, Toby Sibbick sent Snodgrass through but he forced a shot wide as centre-back Angus MacDonald slid in. Clark then stopped another Pollock header before the same player headed against the crossbar.

A melee midway through the second half ended with referee David Dickinson booking James Hill and Toby Sibbick of Hearts along with Aberdeen’s Bojan Miovski and Ylber Ramadani. All four were involved in heated confrontations after Hill’s uncompromsing tackle on Duk.

Clark produced a fine save to stop Ramadani’s left-footed drive, and Hearts lost Michael Smith to a head injury in the final minutes as Aberdeen saw out their victory. Around 1,700 Tynecastle fans journeyed north and some of them vented their fury at full-time.

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Aberdeen (3-5-2): Roos; Pollock, MacDonald, Scales; McCrorie, Ramdani, Clarkson (Myslovic 84), Shinnie, Hayes (Coulson 41); Miovski (Watkins 70), Duk (Duncan 84).

Hearts (3-5-2): Clark; Hill, Sibbick (Grant 75), Rowles; M Smith (Halliday 90), McKay, Kiomourtzoglou (Forrest 46), Snodgrass, Cochrane (Kingsley 34); Shankland, Ginnelly (Humphrys 75).

Referee: David Dickinson.

Attendance: 16,278.

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