With Covid 19 restrictions easing, supporters are back to populate one of Scotland’s most atmospheric sports venues. It has lost none of its ability to deafen and inspire in equal measure thanks to those who sang, bellowed and shrieked their way through Hearts’ draw with Aberdeen on Sunday afternoon.
A total of 17,449 people packed into the Gorgie stadium for a taste of how football used to be before the worldwide pandemic. The visitors brought 1,300 of their own boisterous supporters for a cinch Premiership meeting between two of Scottish football’s traditional heavyweights.
A penalty by the excellent Liam Boyce put Hearts ahead in the second half before Funso Ojo produced a smart equaliser. That allowed both sets of fans a chance to celebrate in turn, and in the end both left the arena relatively content with the 1-1 final scoreline.
The full repertoire of chants got an airing to make up for lost time. Scott Brown received heckling from the locals and, as ever, revelled in the attention and didn’t hesitate to put himself about in midfield.
He boasts an abundance of previous experience when it comes to performing inside a full Tynecastle. For many others on both sides, this was their first taste.
Aberdeen returned from Thursday night’s European trip to Baku and made three changes. Jonny Hayes, Teddy Jenks and Connor McLennan made the starting line-up, while Hearts reinstated Josh Ginnelly in place of the ill Stephen Kingsley.
The teams emerged to a raucous reception as Tynecastle’s cast iron bolts struggled to keep the roof on. Scarves twirled in the late-summer warmth, but this was no time for romancing with points at stake for two teams with 100 per cent league records at kick-off.
Aberdeen carved their hosts open for the first time on 16 minutes when Lewis Ferguson’s delightful through ball found the American international striker Christian Ramirez charging towards goal. His outside-of-the-right-foot effort at Craig Gordon was well beaten away by the Hearts goalkeeper.
The next moment of note came ten minutes later as a chant broke out in appreciation of former Tynecastle captain Marius Zaliukas, who sadly passed away last year.
His old side were pressing for a breakthrough down their right flank against the struggling Aberdeen left-back Hayes. Both Ginnelly and Michael Smith caused problems with several crosses from that area before Jay Emmanuel-Thomas entered the fray to replace the injured McLennan.
Both teams were content to pass the ball without forcing too many clear openings. The first goal was always likely to be crucial and no-one wanted blamed for a mistake which led to it. The scoreline remained blank at the interval and it was little surprise seeing Hayes make way for Dean Campbell before play resumed.
Beni Baningime once again was an influential force in the Hearts midfield with a range of tackles, chases and interceptions which brought him plenty individual applause. He was also involved in the build-up to what should have been a certain opener for the home side early in the second period.
Andy Galliday’s cross was headed down by Boyce and hooked into the sky by Brown. Joe Lewis fumbled his collection and Baningime teed up Gary Mackay-Steven, but he could only volley wide with Lewis out of his goal.
Hearts waited just a few more moments for a breakthrough, though. Mackay-Steven ran for Halliday’s pass on the left of the visitors’ penalty area and had his foot clipped by Declan Gallagher. Referee Bobby Madden awarded a penalty, which Boyce emphatically dispatched into the net.
It was greeted by a Tynecastle roar as loud as ever. Thousands of Hearts fans had waited many long months to celebrate a goal in an important top-flight fixture and needed no encouragement to vent their joy at a touch of normality returning.
Only the naive would discount Aberdeen at 1-0, however. Their forward line packed enough punch to equalise, which is precisely what they did on 71 minutes. Campell’s low cross found Ojo for a clever near-post finish with too many in maroon not sensing the danger. It was his first goal for the Pittodrie club more than two years since joining.
Now it was the travelling fans making the noise, aided by a drum being beaten senseless at the back of the Roseburn Stand. Their team had rediscovered momentum with Teddy Jenks impressive in midfield and smelled the sweet scent of a winner in the air.
Hearts reacted by introducing Jamie Walker – so often a talisman for manager Robbie Neilson – in place of Halliday, and then Aaron McEneff for Mackay-Steven.
Madden visited the technical area twice to caution the Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass and his assistant Henry Apaloo for protesting at the fourth official. That underlined the nervous atmosphere during the final minutes as attempts to convert one point into three intensified.
In the end, a 1-1 scoreline was about correct and offered an accurate reflection of the 90 minutes. One more moment of controversy ensued at full-time as Neilson and Brown confronted one another and exchanged some verbals in the centre-circle before being separated and ushered away.
Yip, Tynecastle is back to its best once again.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Cochrane; M Smith, Haring, Baningime, Halliday (Walker 75); Ginnelly (Henderson 90), Boyce, Mackay-Steven (McEneff 78).
Aberdeen (4-3-3): Lewis; Ramsay, McCrorie, Gallagher, Hayes (Campbell 46); Jenks, Brown, Ferguson; Ojo, Ramirez, McLennan (Emmanuel-Thomas 39).