The most damning aspect of Hearts' 0-0 draw with ten-man Livingston

Visiting side failed to score for over 40 minutes against ten men - which was almost inevitable

By Craig Fowler
Sunday, 27th October 2019, 12:26 pm
Updated Sunday, 27th October 2019, 1:27 pm

Sitting in the media section at the Tony Macaroni Arena, watching referee Greg Aitken hurriedly reach into his back pocket for the red card he was about to show to Livingston attacker Aymen Souda, my first instinct was a sense of dread.

Hearts were about to play the final 40-plus minutes of their match in Almondvale against ten men - and that wasn't a good thing.

The visitors had played fairly well in the first half, all things considered. The injury curse - which only the good players in the Hearts squad seem susceptible to - had robbed them of three further first-team stars before the match, most notably Glenn Whelan, who's been an influential member of the midfield this campaign.

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Aidan Kenna in possession for Hearts late in Saturday's game. Picture: SNS

It forced Craig Levein into picking a midfield four that was miles away in terms of quality from the one he envisioned starting with this season. In Sean Clare, Ryo Meshino, Oliver Bozanic and Andy Irving he had two central attackers out of position on the wing, a neat-and-tidy grafter who never seems to perform at his best in the starting XI, and a 19-year-old.

They were stationed in front of a defence with two inexperienced full-backs in Jamie Brandon and Aaron Hickey and a right-back (Michael Smith) partnering captain Christophe Berra in the centre. In attack were the third and fourth-choice strikers coming into the season in Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean, respectively, tasked with scoring the goals.

Given how much stronger Hearts teams have struggled this campaign, it didn't look like they were going to have the required ability to dig out the result required to help them move up the table.

Instead, in the first 45 minutes they were arguably the better side and should have taken the lead when Uche Ikpeazu failed to convert a one-on-one opportunity with goalkeeper Matija Sarkic.

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The red card should have given them the perfect platform to build on a relatively positive opening period, but we've seen this movie too many times before.

Going down to ten men meant that Livingston now longer saw Hearts as a wounded animal. They no longer considered themselves favourites and therefore had something to defend. The team that have the third-fewest shots and sixth-lowest Expected Goals tally in the Ladbrokes Premiership this term was unlikely to break through against back four tasked with only protecting their goal.

It was almost even worse when Livingston, for at least 15 minutes after the red card, were the better team. Were it not for a goal-line intervention from Michael Smith then the visitors would surely have lost yesterday's match.

Levein lamented his side's inability to adjust and believes they would have eventually found the elusive goal if they'd played in the manner they finished the game straight after Souda was shown his marching orders. Personally, I have my doubts.

Ikpeazu's first-half miss would remain the only clear-cut opportunity Hearts wasted over the 90 minutes. There was a lot of territorial domination as the time ticked away, but it still looked doubtful they would actually find a way through. Frankly, they could have played all night and had you later informed me it still finished 0-0, I wouldn't have been surprised.