Stats show defending needs addressed at Hearts as Covid-ravaged Raith Rovers end Tynecastle run
At 3-0 down, you needed to double check Hearts actually had seven internationalists on the pitch. They conceded soft goals and Craig Gordon’s first-half penalty save from Regan Hendry only delayed the inevitable.
Gozie Ugwu scored his first Raith goal with a cute backheel on five minutes. A second penalty was awarded right after half-time despite Hearts full-back Michael Smith appearing to play the ball and not Raith’s talented on-loan Rangers winger Kai Kennedy.
Substitute Manny Duku scored from the spot and moments later it was 3-0. The excellent Kennedy evaded Craig Halkett and his low cross squeezed past Gordon for Reghan Tumilty to knock home from close range.
Hearts appealed for handball which referee John Beaton didn’t spot. The introduction of Josh Ginnelly finally injected some energy into a listless home performance, and two Liam Boyce headers restored hope.
Jamie MacDonald, the former Tynecastle goalkeeper, denied Stephen Kingsley, Smith and Steven Naismith with outstanding late saves.
By full-time, Hearts had conceded 17 times in 12 league games and suffered their first home defeat in almost a year.
“The form Jamie MacDonald was on summed up our day,” admitted Naismith. “We gave away silly goals, the penalty absolutely kills us when it’s not a penalty. They got to hang on to a result and we created a lot of chances.
“We could have come away with a point but if we didn’t give away slack goals we could have come away with a win. The problem has been that, all round, it wasn’t good enough. It’s an opportunity missed.”
The result did not catastrophically damage Hearts’ Championship title challenge. With Dunfermline and Dundee both drawing over the weekend, the Edinburgh club’s lead at the top was reduced from seven points to six.
However, there is a pressing need to tighten up. Christophe Berra’s pulled hamstring saw him replaced by Mihai Popescu in the second period and Ginnelly’s introduction certainly brought Hearts to life.
Manager Robbie Neilson conceded at full-time that his team hadn’t been good enough. He was red-carded by Beaton after receiving a second caution for complaining.
Raith had trained only once in the build-up to this match due to a Covid outbreak. They hadn’t played in almost four weeks but produced an energy and a ruthlessness which belied their lack of action.
And they had MacDonald in inspired form despite being one of the players forced into ten-day isolation. “What a team performance after the last few weeks of adversity, players being ill and training once,” he said.
“Tiredness set in during the last half hour and thankfully I’ve had a couple of saves. We go again on Tuesday [against Hearts in Kirkcaldy] and it will be a patch-up job. All the saves are important, especially the one-handers.
“I was one of the ones who had it [Covid]. I wasn't feeling great until Wednesday. For the last 20 minutes, I thought my calves were going to cramp up.
“I’ve got happy memories here at Tynecastle and this is up there with them.”