HEARTS ended the year with some cheer and had the look of serious European contenders with their encouraging league position as they sat comfortably in third place, after their first league victory at Dens Park since March 1994.
The match did not bring much cheer to supporters who braved the winter conditions to witness a scrappy end-of-year affair which was played out on what Hearts coach Craig Levein described as a “glue-pot” of a pitch.
Man of the moment was the young substitute Graham Weir, who managed to apply the faintest of touches to divert Scott Severin’s header into the net with just ten minutes remaining. He sped off celebrating in a manner that would not have disgraced Robbie Keane, leaving few in doubt about his intention to claim the winning goal.
Many had made their way to Dens Park expecting more than just graft. Hearts were in a period of fine form, while suspension-hit Dundee fielded four strikers.
Deprived of defenders Lee Wilkie and Jonay Hernandez, who were both sent off against Aberdeen, and the injured Tom Hutchison, Duffy sought to take the attention away from a weakened rearguard by flinging on a surplus of forwards. Steve Lovell, Fabian Caballero, Nacho Novo and Steven Milne all started, the last named for the first time since October.
Milne has been in a prodigious run of form of late and he managed another here, making it six in a good week’s work for him, if not his team. His strike after 58 minutes restored parity to the scoreline after Kirk, finally making a scoring opportunity count after scorning a string of chances, had edged Hearts ahead.
His counter arrived just three minutes before half-time, Alan Maybury’s cross having been met by confusion in the Dundee penalty area. Kirk made Dundee pay for such dithering, lashing the ball in at the near post.
Duffy resisted the temptation to bring on one more striker, instead swapping midfielder Garry Brady for Mark Robertson with the result that Dundee equalised 14 minutes after the re-start.
Dave Mackay displayed great fortitude when winning a challenge in midfield, eventually swinging in a fine cross to the back post where Milne was lurking.
The striker found the corner of Roddy McKenzie’s net with the sweetest of headers, giving Dundee the encouragement to win the game.
On came another striker – Steven Robb replaced the ineffectual Lovell – and minutes later Milne almost supplied his side with the lead when a neat chip cleared McKenzie, but, sadly for him, also the bar.
Hearts, for a moment, were on the rack, but, as in the first half, they survived a period of pressure and, in fact, went on to prosper. A corner from Jean-Louis Valois found Severin, whose header sped past the defensive debris assembled on the line having been touched on by Weir. “Bring on the Hibees” the away fans chanted. This was a fourth win in five games for Levein’s side.