Kyle Lafferty made his Hearts debut in Dublin, but it wasn’t to be a scoring one as Hearts went down 1-0 against St Patrick’s Athletic in the first game of their Irish pre-season tour.
JJ Lunney’s smart strike midway through get first half was enough to give the League of Ireland side the win as 105 travelling Hearts fans got their first glimpse of last week’s three new arrivals. Ashley Smith-Brown and Michael Smith were introduced at half-time although the former’s bow was cut short as he was withdrawn after appearing to pick up a knock.
Jamie Walker also saw his first action since the club rejected two bids for the winger from Rangers last month.
Viktor Noring was given the nod ahead of Jack Hamilton in goal and he produced a fine save within the first five minutes when Conan Byrne’s cross was steered towards the bottom corner by Graham Kelly.
The hosts looked by far the sharper side in the opening 25 minutes, although understandably so given Liam Buckley’s side are 23 games into their season.
The Jambos did have the ball in the net as Rafal Grzelak demonstrated his shooting ability. The big Pole sent a raking effort flying straight in to the top corner from the angle of the box but referee Ben Connolly had already blown for an infringement in the build-up.
St Pat’s responded with a goal of their own – which counted – soon after. Lunney took a a clever touch in the box to evade the attempted blocks of Jordan McGhee and Alex Petkov before calmly directing a low shot low past Noring to his right.
Conor Sammon almost put the ball in the exact same spot as Grzelak shortly before half-time and was unfortunate to see how right-footed effort sail just wide with home goalkeeper Barry Murphy well beaten.
Hamilton replaced Noring at the break and mirrored his team-mate’s first-half contribution with a good early stop, showing strong wrists to parry away substitute Josh O’Hanlon’s near-post strike.
Hearts head coach Ian Cathro had spoken during the week about his desire to move on from the speculation surrounding Walker and get him back playing effectively.
And Walker almost justified his manager’s words in quick time, skipping past two challenges as he drove in the box, only to see his left-foot shot diverted wide by a last-ditch block from Lee Desmond.
Some good interplay between Walker and Isma Goncalves afforded the former another opportunity, but Murphy was equal to his effort.
The hosts were looking just as likely to add to their lead as Cathro’s men did to levelling, and the home fans thought they had when Ian Birmingham slammed a shot into the side-netting from a tight angle.
They were even more convinced when Dennehy’s first-time shot from the edge of the area appeared to have squirmed through several bodies and past Hamilton. The celebrations were cut short, however, when the near-side assistant indicated the ball had been touched in from an offside position, which more than one Hearts player had been quick to point out.
Hearts forced some late pressure via Goncalves, Lafferty – on for Cole Stockton in the 72nd minute – and Smith but lacked any cutting edge. However, 90 minutes against clearly sharper and fitter opponents means this game will go down as fitness exercise.
Cathro was happy with his team’s workout, saying: “It was a very good exercise.
“It was two teams in each half and was a training session in a lot of ways for us to work on some things and make sure we get our conditioning up.
“We did a lot of running, which we wanted to do, playing against a team that’s pretty much in the full flow of their season.
“It’s a really good match and I’m really pleased with the game as an exercise so it’s positive, it really is.”
Hearts first-half XI (3-4-3): Noring, Brandon, Grzelak, Petkov, McGhee, Berra, Martin, Nowak, Stockton, Sammon, Currie.
Hearts second-half XI: Hamilton, Smith, Smith-Brown (Beith 72), McGhee, Hughes, Petkov, Cochrane, Cowie, Walker, Goncalves, Stockton (Lafferty 72)
St Patrick’s Athletic: Murphy, Barker, Bermingham, Bryne, Kelly, Fagan (O’Hanlon), Brennan (Grogan 85), Lunney (Dennehy 46), Feely (Desmond 46), Garvan (Markey 74), Balk.
Referee: Ben Connolly