Hearts 2 - 1 Aberdeen: Jambos come from behind to defeat Dons
Hearts won this one and moved back into fifth place. Those are the simple facts and certainly all that really matters in the cold light of day.
But such a simple sentence does not tell the full story of a match against Aberdeen that had a bit of everything and could have a massive impact on how the season pans out for both clubs.
One goal down at half-time, Hearts showed character to battle back to win 2-1, cement their place in the top six and move back above city rivals Hibs. It also leaves them only two points behind Aberdeen and four adrift of third-placed Kilmarnock as the chase for at European football next season hots up.
But it all came at a cost for Hearts as match-winner Uche Ikpeazu appeared to be knocked out cold and is likely to miss the midweek trip to Ibrox. He could also be forced to sit out next weekend’s derby and, possibly the Scottish Cup semi-final with Inverness the following week.
The Englishman was a central figure in the afternoon’s proceedings and having battled hard with the Aberdeen defence throughout, he grabbed his reward in the 77th minute, making up for a glaring miss early in the second half. Ikpeazu applied pressure on Aberdeen defender Andy Considine who could not deal with Conor Shaughnessy’s long ball forward and, when Scott McKenna tried and failed with another stab at clearing the danger, the big forward barrelled in. He showed wonderful composure to place his finish beyond the diving Joe Lewis and then peeled away in ecstasy to celebrate his winning goal with the manager and coaching staff.
It was a moment of release after so much frustration. The Aberdeen rearguard had managed to quash his threat throughout the first half and although his manager, Craig Levein, believed that there were times when they crossed a line, the officials waved aside the appeals and there was even more consternation when he was booked for diving just after Hearts had equalised.
“It is not even a doubt,” said Levein. “The only saving grace for me is I am not sitting here getting myself in trouble because we won the match. I thought Jamie [Brandon] getting pulled back [early on to gift Ikpeazu the chance he missed] was a penalty and Uche’s was the biggest stonewall you will ever see.”
Darting onto a ball into space in the box, he seemed to be clipped by the out-rushing Lewis. It certainly looked like a second penalty for the home side, who had levelled from the spot minutes earlier, but referee John Beaton flashed a yellow card at Ikpeazu for simulation instead.
Aberdeen had taken the lead, after Graeme Shinnie and Lewis Ferguson grabbed the first half by the scruff of the neck and put Hearts under pressure. They found the breakthrough in the 16th minute when Hearts keeper Zdenek Zlamal parried a Sam Cosgrove header only for Connor McLennan to react fastest and pounce on the loose ball and ensure it ended up in the net. The better team throughout that opening 45 minutes, Aberdeen failed to add to that tally and they ultimately paid the price.
Sean Clare was the man who had converted the 59th minute penalty equaliser for Hearts, but it was the pace and determined running of Jake Mulraney that earned him the opportunity as the speedy wing-back was halted unceremoniously by Considine’s out-stretched leg.
By now, Hearts were the team in control but moments after giving his side the lead Ikpeazu thudded to the turf, seemingly knocked out, following an accidental clash of heads. Looking unsteady on his legs and dazed, he was replaced by Olly Bozanic and wheeled into the dressing room on a stretcher to the sound of the crowd singing his name.
Even after all that there was still time for one last talking point.
When Clare went to ground holding his head after another aerial challenge Aberdeen reacted angrily, accusing him of making a meal of things. More than a dozen players weighed in and once the referee and his assistants had dealt with the melee, two visiting players, Dominic Ball and Ferguson, and two Hearts players, John Souttar and Arnaud Djoum, were booked.