IF THERE’S been an element of Jekyll and Hyde about most of their performances at Tynecastle this season, the presence of owner Vladimir Romanov brought out the more admirable side of Hearts as goals from Andrew Driver, Andrius Velicka, Ibrahim Tall and Christian Nade earned the home team a thoroughly emphatic win over the club which pipped them for a place in Europe last season.
Producing their best all-round display on home turf since Rangers were defeated 4-2 in September, Hearts, in patches, at last delivered football of a quality befitting a club which wants to think of itself as the third force in Scottish football.
Busy in midfield and ambitious in attack, Hearts swept Aberdeen aside with four goals and played throughout at a high tempo.
Needing to deliver results on a more consistent basis, this win over Aberdeen, after a CIS Cup success at Celtic Park and a draw at Easter Road, suggested Hearts are back on track.
However, there have been so many false dawns at Tynecastle over the past 18 months or so that perhaps only an undefeated run stretching into double figures is required to convince the sceptics.
The return of confidence allied to a renewed sense of purpose – the team was driven on by fine performances from Michael Stewart and Eggert Jonsson in central midfield – helped Hearts force their way back into the top six thanks to their biggest win over Aberdeen since 1999.
In a game where a pre-match power surge caused an electrical problem which meant Hearts lost the use of the floodlights for part of the first-half, the one thing the home side didn’t lack in this contest was a supply of power.
Starting with the same outfield team which began the derby against Hibs – Steve Banks was recalled in goal – Hearts wanted to improve on a record which had seen them take just one point from nine in their three previous SPL matches.
Aberdeen, on the other hand, had collected 13 points from their previous five league games. In spite of those statistics, however, it was Hearts who impressed as much the more cohesive outfit.
Having been involved in midweek UEFA Cup action, Aberdeen left out Sone Aluko, Andrew Considine and Chris Clark from the side which drew with Lokomotiv Moscow.
Lee Mair, Chris MacGuire and Jeffrey De Visscher were the fresh faces introduced by Jimmy Calderwood. Even so, there was still a sloppiness about the visitors which Hearts exploited with two goals in 14 minutes.
As expected, on such a crisp, bright winter’s afternoon, Hearts started the match at a brisk tempo.
They were in front after three minutes thanks to pressing play which forced Aberdeen to make a catalogue of errors.
Driver was involved in the build-up, then Nade took advantage of mistakes from Ricky Foster and Zander Diamond before prodding the ball towards goal.
It wasn’t going to cross the line, however, until Driver raced towards the far post and poked home his fifth goal of the season off the base of the woodwork.
Although the early exchanges were hectic rather than fluent, Driver and Robbie Neilson combined at brisk pace down the right flank after 13 minutes and forced a corner.
The kick was taken short and Driver aimed a cross towards the back post. Whether Jamie Langfield should have gathered the ball was a moot point, but under pressure from Nade, the chance fell to Andrius Velicka who buried the goal from close range with his left boot.
Aberdeen made an enforced change through injury after 23 minutes when Barry Nicholson was replaced by Chris Clark. The switch was helpful and Clark’s shot from the edge of the box grazed the bar. A powerful run from De Visscher might also have caused problems had Stewart and Christophe Berra not crowded the Dutchman into a wide area.
For the most part, though, Hearts retained the initiative and could have added a third goal before half-time when Nade gathered a cross from Velicka with a delicate first touch. Having made room for himself, though, the big striker shoved the ball wide from close range.
Hearts were to regret that miss seven minutes before the break when De Visscher, who looked half a yard offside, cut inside from the right in the 38th minute without being closed down by Jose Goncalves. His angled shot was struck with menacing accuracy and eluded the grasp of Banks to hand the visitors a lifeline.
A wild challenge by Derek Young on Neilson, which earned the Aberdeen player a yellow card, forced the Hearts full-back to hobble off. Marius Zaliukas came on to play in central defence with Tall switching to right-back. After a rousing opening spell, Hearts could have been out of sight, but now faced a test of nerve to retain an advantage.
Less likely to fall on their own sword in the second-half, Aberdeen were quicker to the ball and more adept at denying Hearts space.
Even so, the home side went further ahead in the 54th minute after De Visscher fouled Nade. Stewart sent a curling free-kick into the heart of the penalty box where Tall rose above the rest to glance a header into the corner of the net.
Thereafter, Laryea Kingston replaced Velicka in a move which saw Andrius Ksanavicius shift inside to support Nade while the substitute attacked from the right flank. The re-shuffle brought a fourth goal in the 62nd minute. Kingston started things, Ksanavicius helped things along by playing in Nade and the big striker, at the second attempt, curled a shot past Langfield. Aberdeen might have earned a consolation goal a minute from time after Lee Miller chased down a pass back from Goncalves and Banks had to recover quickly to block the striker’s shot. In the end, though, Hearts ran out convincing winners in what was a compelling encounter. Hearts: Banks, Neilson (Zaliukas 39), Goncalves, Tall, Stewart, Berra (c), Driver, Jonsson, Nade (Ricardas 80), Velicka (Kingston 57), Ksanavicius. Subs not used: Basso, Wallace, Palazuelos, Elliot
Aberdeen: Langfield, Hart, Foster, Diamond, Severin, Mair, De Visscher (Lovell 68), Nicholson (Clark 23), Miller, Maguire (Aluko 58), Young. Subs not used: Soutar, McNamara, Touzani, Considine
Referee: I Brines