Key performers drive Hearts to 2-0 win over Aberdeen as Tynecastle side increase gap in European chase

Imperious displays by both John Souttar and Stephen Kingsley underpinned a comfortable Hearts win over Aberdeen at Tynecastle Park.

Not only did the two defenders score to ensure a 2-0 final result, they defended astutely and ventured forward with class throughout an excellent 90 minutes. It was an evening which underlined Hearts’ credentials as the Premiership’s best side outwith Celtic and Rangers.

Lewis Ferguson’s penalty-kick was saved by Craig Gordon on 70 minutes to preserve a clean sheet, but that was the only genuine moment of danger for the Scotland goalkeeper.

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Aberdeen were unable to fashion any properly clear scoring opportunities during a disappointing night from their perspective. The two Hearts converted secured a useful win in a big game. That increased their advantage in third place to 12 points as Motherwell lost, Hibs drew and Livingston beat Dundee United.

Stephen Kingsley celebrates putting Hearts 2-0 ahead against Aberdeen.

Aberdeen arrived in Edinburgh hoping to end a run of eight games without victory which contributed to the sacking of previous manager Stephen Glass. Successor Jim Goodwin was only in charge for the last two fixtures in that sequence, which both ended in 1-1 draws.

Hearts, after halting their own recent malaise with a vital win at St Mirren on Saturday, starting building some momentum with another three points here.

A minute’s applause in memory of the late Tynecastle centre-back Alan Anderson preceded a purposeful opening by the hosts which included goal attempts from Gary Mackay-Steven, Ellis Simms, Liam Boyce and Cammy Devlin.

The first half hour was largely dominated by Hearts’ possession and control. Aberdeen did find the net first but Declan Gallagher’s header from Connor Barron’s free-kick was disallowed for a foul just as the travelling support roared to acclaim it.

Seven minutes from the interval, the home side forced the goal their play deserved. Mackay-Steven’s free-kick from the left was retrieved by Devlin on the right, his cross found Halkett whose header was partially cleared into Souttar’s path. The defender dispatched a powerful volley from 14 yards which powered into Joe Lewis’ net via a slight deflection.

The half-time whistle sounded after Craig Gordon collected a dipping shot from the Aberdeen striker Christian Ramirez. In truth, the Pittodrie side had created little and found themselves two behind by the hour mark.

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Barrie McKay’s outswinging corner invited Kingsley to rise for a bulleted header high beyond Lewis. As he celebrated, the bigger picture was that this game was now firmly in Hearts’ grasp.

A contentious penalty award to the visitors 20 minutes from the end might have changed that. Referee Steven McLean judged that Nathaniel Atkinson fouled Ferguson inside the box, but Gordon stopped and held the Scotland internationalist’s spot-kick low to his right.

There were strong appeals for a Hearts penalty in the closing stages when Craig Halkett fell in an aerial challenge with Funso Ojo. McLean remained impassive and the score remained 2-0 until the end.

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Atkinson, Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; Devlin (Haring 76), Baningime; McKay, Boyce (Halliday 87), Mackay-Steven (Ginnelly 76); Simms.

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Aberdeen (4-3-3): Lewis; Ojo, Gallagher, Bates, Hayes (McGeouch 67); Barron (Jenks 67), Brown (MacKenzie 76); Besuijen, Ferguson, Kennedy (McLennan 53); Ramirez.

Referee: Steven McLean.

Attendance: 16,703.

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