Story of the match: Hearts survive late onslaught from Ross County to earn second successive win

Hearts survived a late onslaught from Ross County to record second successive victories in the cinch Premiership for the first time since early October as an impressive first-half showing was ultimately enough to give them all three points.

By Craig Fowler
Sunday, 26th December 2021, 5:41 pm
Updated Sunday, 26th December 2021, 5:41 pm
A happy Ben Woodburn after the Hearts attacker doubled his side's advantage. Picture: SNS
A happy Ben Woodburn after the Hearts attacker doubled his side's advantage. Picture: SNS

Michael Smith and Ben Woodburn gave the hosts a 2-0 cushion at an empty Tynecastle Park with supporters once again locked out of grounds due to new government restrictions. They missed an excellent showing before the break, but it was a very different story afterwards with Malky Mackay’s side growing into the game and Jordan White pulling them back into things on 72 minutes.

From there it was a real struggle for Robbie Neilson’s men as County threw everything at them to claim a share of the spoils, though they were able to hold on by the skin of their teeth.

The home side could’ve have asked for a better start as they went ahead inside four minutes. Woodburn wriggled away from Harry Clarke before squaring for Aaron McEneff. The midfielder’s shot was saved by Ross Laidlaw, but Smith followed up with a composed finish beyond the County custodian at his near post.

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Despite missing several key players higher up the park, there was a real fluency and verve to the Hearts attack in the early stages as they created numerous opportunities. Woodburn flashed a shot wide, McEneff had another close-range effort blocked by Laidlaw and Craig Halkett headed wide from the resulting corner.

Barrie McKay had a stinging effort deflected wide before McEneff had his third attempt of the match within 23 minutes, lashing wide of the far post after being picked out by Peter Haring.

Smith had a terrific opportunity to net his second of the game as the full-back, playing in the centre of the park, toe-poked wide after being played in by McEneff.

Hearts got the second goal their play deserved on 42 minutes. Haring picked out Woodburn with a ranging pass, the Liverpool loanee took it down with a flawless touch, advanced on goal and saw his shot hit the back of the net via a deflection off Clarke.

It could have been three just before the break with John Souttar, who hit the bar earlier in the half, striking the post with a header.

Smith had another opportunity but couldn’t quite get on the end of a Woodburn cross on 63 minutes. Substitute Jamie Walker was then involved twice in quick succession, forcing a save from Laidlaw and then cutting back for Andy Halliday, who knocked it wide of the front post.

A possible care-free finale suddenly got very nervy when County pulled a goal back. Samuel raced away from Smith in midfield before playing in Charles-Cook. His low cross was knocked in via the back post by White.

Hearts almost reclaimed a two-goal advantage instantly with Halliday picking out Haring arriving in the box, but the Austrian knocked his header wide.

Gordon was forced into a save from Clarke with the match approaching stoppage time, but it was four minutes into the additional period where they had to survive the biggest scare. Jack Baldwin’s header gave Connor Randall the chance to tap home from close range, but the former Hearts man was denied by his team-mate Joseph Hungo, who inadvertently blocked it on the line.

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