The manner of their defeat at Pittodrie on Saturday will irritate more than anything as an 11-game unbeaten Premiership run was halted by resurgent Aberdeen.
While the hosts were energetic, inventive and aggressive to convert a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 2-1 victory, this was a meek surrender by those in maroon.
They led after Josh Ginnelly won a late first-half penalty which John Souttar converted. But the Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass changed his back three to a four at the break and moved Scott Brown from central defence into midfield. It was a pivotal decision.
Marley Watkins’ struck a quality equaliser before Lewis Ferguson’s header from a corner secured the advantage. Brown shoved team-mate Ryan Hedges into Hearts midfielder Beni Baningime as the set-piece was delivered, thus blocking Ferguson’s marker and allowing the midfielder a free header.
Aberdeen deserved their win regardless as Hearts admitted to being second-best. Andy Halliday’s late red card for a dangerous challenge on Ferguson simply compounded the disappointment.
“It was a tough day. Credit to Aberdeen, I though they were good. We weren’t at the races and Aberdeen were worthy of their victory,” said Gary Mackay-Steven, the former Pittodrie winger.
“We’ve said in the dressing room afterwards that it’s a tough one to take but overall it’s been a good start and the most important thing is to bounce back next week – look at what went wrong, set-pieces, what we could have done better and go again next game.”
Hearts’ form is not quite what they would want after a run of two wins from eight matches. Striker Liam Boyce remains injured with a calf problem but could return for Dundee United’s trip to Tynecastle this weekend.
“He is a big player for us but we have a really good squad. We just never played well as a team and lost another set-piece goal, which we need to look at,” added Mackay-Steven.
“It’s tough after a defeat but it was going to happen at some point. Aberdeen are a good team, especially at home. They were worthy of their victory and we didn’t do enough.”
Aberdeen’s recovery from no wins in ten shows the often fickle nature of Scottish football. That is small consolation for Hearts, who know teams around them in the Premiership’s top half will all cut one another up.
“Definitely, there’s a lot of good teams in the league this year. I don’t think anyone will go the rest of the season undefeated,” said Mackay-Steven. “Celtic dropped points on Saturday too. Teams will take points off the Old Firm.
“Aberdeen took points off Rangers. So there’s more than just the Old Firm in this league, there’s a lot of good teams, everyone will take points off each other through the course. We just need to concentrate on ourselves.”
Aberdeen (3-4-1-2): Lewis; Bates, Brown, McCrorie; Ojo, McGeouch (McGinn 87), Ferguson, Campbell; Hedges; Ramirez, Watkins (Hayes 84).
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; M Smith, Baningime, Devlin, Cochrane (Halliday 72); Ginnelly (Woodburn 57), Gnanduillet, Mackay-Steven (McKay 57).
Referee: Kevin Clancy.