Cowdenbeath 0-2 Hearts: Craig Halkett and Anthony McDonald on target for Jambos

Craig Halkett leaps highest to head Hearts in front at Central Park
Craig Halkett leaps highest to head Hearts in front at Central Park
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Craig Halkett and Anthony McDonald both netted their first competitive goals for Hearts in a Betfred Cup victory over Cowdenbeath that was more convincing than the scoreline suggests.

The Tynecastle side were in full control for most of the evening and created a plethora of chances as they replaced their hosts at the top of Group A with five points from a possible six.

A combination of poor finishing and impressive shot-stopping from on-loan Hibs goalkeeper Kevin Dabrowski kept the score down, but the visitors could be pleased with the professional manner in which they dealt with a potentially tricky assignment.

Hearts made six changes to the side that started against Dundee United on Friday, with debutant Halkett, Bobby Burns, Oliver Bozanic, McDonald, Dario Zanatta and Steven MacLean all added to the starting lineup.

Aaron Hickey, Jamie Walker, Uche Ikpeazu and Jake Mulraney dropped to the bench, while Andy Irving missed out through suspension and John Souttar was given the night off.

Craig Levein, returning to the club at which he started both his playing and managerial career, spoke in the build-up about the danger of complacency, but there was clear intent and intensity from the outset.

Encouragingly for the large travelling support who made up the bulk of the 2311 crowd inside Central Park, this sense of purpose and control lasted for the majority of the evening, even if their goal threat diminished somewhat in the closing stages.

With less than a minute on the clock, Zanatta, playing wide left in a 4-4-2, cut in from the left and saw his effort well saved by Dabrowski.

Seconds later MacLean headed over from Zanatta’s cross before Halkett nodded just wide from a Michael Smith delivery.

All of this occurred within the opening three minutes as the fleet-footed visitors signalled their intent on a glorious summer’s evening in central Fife.

Given the way the match had begun, there was little surprise when the visitors opened the scoring in the eighth minute as centre-back Halkett, who scored seven goals for Livingston last season, headed in his first for his new club from a Bozanic corner.

Hearts were enjoying themselves in the sunshine and McDonald produced a lovely pass down the right channel which released Washington on goal but Dabrowski raced out to make an impressive block.

McDonald then went desperately close to doubling the visitors’ lead in the 16th minute when Smith’s carefully-lofted ball over the top set up McDonald wide on the right but the teenager’s sublime angled lob dropped agonisingly wide of the far post.

The teenager didn’t have to wait much longer for his goal, however, as he arrived on the edge of the six-yard box to knock in MacLean’s delivery at the end of a fast-flowing build-up.

Washington then had another good chance to open his Hearts account when he produced an impressive first touch to latch on to a clipped ball over the top from Burns, but Dabrowski stood up well to stop the Northern Ireland striker slotting the ball into the net.

Hearts remained well on top right up to the interval and Zanatta saw a powerful low shot from the edge of the box brilliantly pushed out by Dabrowski in the 43rd minute before Christophe Berra blazed a chance wide from close range seconds before the half-time whistle.

Hearts should have put the outcome beyond doubt six minutes after the break when McDonald’s pass sent Zanatta clean through but the Canadian’s shot lacked conviction and was saved by the excellent Dabrowski, who pulled off another couple of blocks in the closing stages to deny substitute Aidan Keena and McDonald.