A dramatic last-minute winner from substitute Larry Kingston secured all three points for the Jambos against a Caley side which twice came from behind despite finishing the afternoon with ten men.
Hearts knew a victory would propel them up to third in the SPL after Aberdeen and Rangers drew a blank in the early kick-off.
An untidy opening period ensued until Hearts sprung into attack after 21 minutes. The talismanic Bruno Aguiar released Andy Driver with an intelligent through ball behind the visiting defence, and the winger’s cross would have produced an own goal off the sliding Grant Munro had it not been for keeper Ryan Esson’s sprightly reactions. The hosts somehow avoided falling behind five minutes later, as Dougie Imrie contrived to head Don Cowie’s free-kick into the side netting when unmarked at the far post. For each sigh of relief heaved in home boss Csaba Laszlo’s technical area at that point, there must have been a groan of despair from those in the away dugout after wasting such a glaring opening.
The match continued in rather turgid fashion until Hearts’ opener broke the monotony. From Driver’s hanging cross, David Obua rose with Esson to win the ball in the air and knocked it into an empty net for his first goal in maroon. The delight on the Ugandan’s face afterwards betrayed the difficulties he had endured adapting to football and life in Scotland, and he seemed determined to enjoy a welcome moment of notoriety.
Driver’s powerful strike brought a vital save from Esson at the start of the second half, however Hearts’ one-goal advantage always looked fragile and on 56 minutes Inverness forced an equaliser when Pavels Mihadjuks headed Cowie’s free-kick venomously beyond Jamie MacDonald. Moments later, and with the home defence caught unaware, Cowie accepted a short corner and crossed for Ross Tokely to send what was a decent chance into the Roseburn Stand. Inverness were beginning to sense the prospect of a second goal with Hearts restricted to playing in their own half.
Striker Christian Nade enjoyed an impressive overall performance in the lone striking berth and Esson was required to stop shots from both the Frenchman and midfielder Michael Stewart in quick succession. The need for a goal brought Gary Glen off the substitutes’ bench on 64 minutes for Aguiar who headed straight for the home dressing-room in disgust.
The afternoon erupted in controversy just before the hour. Driver was taken down in the penalty area by Roy McBain, who was then booked for protesting after referee Steve Conroy awarded a spot-kick. Stewart’s strike from 12 yards was saved by Esson before McBain received a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident having remonstrated with one of Conroy’s assistants.
Esson tipped a Christos Karipidis header onto the crossbar as Hearts, intending to capitalise on their one-man advantage, began to press forward. Driver and Obua had swapped flanks and soon repeated their combination for the first goal to restore the hosts’ advantage. Driver’s right-sided cross was met by the towering Obua at the back post, and this time his header flew past Esson and into the goal.
However, Inverness got an unlikely equaliser through a sublime free-kick from Imrie with just two minutes to spare, but they hadn’t reckoned on Kingston’s late contribution, the Ghanian converting Driver’s cross just three minutes after replacing Nade.
Hearts: MacDonald, Neilson, Wallace, Jonsson, Karipidis, Berra, Obua, Stewart, Nade, Aguiar, Driver.