WE came to Pittodrie to bury Hearts, not to praise them. If there was one place Hearts weren’t going to bring an end to their longest league run without a victory since 1998, it surely wasn’t at the home of an Aberdeen side themselves on a longest winning run across all competitions in 17 years. The 90 minutes that ensued then not only defied all logic, they inverted it.
Scorers: Aberdeen - McGinn 27; Hearts - Walker 66, Paterson 74, Stevenson 90+3
A madcap afternoon, wherein the mayhem was never less than compulsive viewing, turned on two moments. At 1-0 to a then rampant home side, Barry Robson, on for the stricken Willo Flood and on a booking, clumsily and pretty brainlessly, impeded the too-nippy Jason Holt. Within 20 minutes, Hearts were 2-1 up after the Aberdeen goal was breached for the first time in more than 400 minutes.
Robson, however, wasn’t the only experienced former Celtic player in red who could be held accountable for reverse that exposed the flaws that still lurk beneath the make-up of Aberdeen. Niall McGinn, given the chance to put the contest beyond a then toiling Tynecastle side from the penalty spot in 37 minutes, fluffed his lines with a weak effort that Jamie MacDonald saved comfortably.
If McGinn had added a second to his tally, subsequent to opening the scoring with an almighty biff from 12 yards after the Hearts defence failed to deal with a cross, there would have been no way back.
Hearts’ crafted a second win over Aberdeen this season – the sides’ August meeting both the last time Gary Locke’s team won a league game and scored more than one goal – out of Jamie Walker’s brilliance. His takedown from a Danny Wilson flick-on was sublime and allowed him to sashay round Jamie Langfield with balletic grace before touching the ball into the net. He followed up this 66th minute equaliser by dancing beyond the Aberdeen defence before cutting the ball back from the bye-line on the left to allow Callum Paterson to tap in. “When he is on the ball and going at people he is difficult to play against,” Locke said.
The Hearts manager said he had his keeper MacDonald “to thank” for keeping the visitors in the game in the face of a late first-half onslaught. Unsurprisingly, he did not attempt to downplay the potential significance of the slump-ending scoreline – topped off by Ryan Stevenson whacking in a glorious angled drive from 22 yards in added time.
“If we don’t get a lift from this, we never will,” he said.
The day ended with Hearts players throwing their jerseys into a Hearts crowd in raptures. The act was more than just about showing solidarity, a day before Remembrance Sunday. Locke said: “McCrae’s Battalion [the Hearts players who joined up in the First World War and were killed in action] is of huge importance for us. They were commemorated on our strips and for the players to throw them into the crowd was a great gesture.”
Despite, the downer of the outcome, Aberdeen players were also applauded from the field. Manager Derek McInnes thought that was “the right thing to do” where the home faithful were concerned after a first half he felt showed the biggest “gulf” between teams in a Premiership game this season. To him, victory was only denied his men by referee Iain Brines.
McInnes was fizzing about the official’s failure to award a penalty for a Dylan McGowan handball on the line that blocked a Calvin Zola drive, seconds before he did point to the spot for a McGinn shot hitting the arm of Paterson. The Aberdeen players were incensed about no whistle for the McGowan contact at the time and, afterwards, Russell Anderson sneered about the application of the rule stating that penalties must be given for the ball striking a hand if it is in an unnatural position, whatever the intent.
“If a hand in front of your face is not an unnatural position, I don’t know what is,” he said.
McInnes was similarly vexed. “That was pivotal to the outcome,” he said. “It should have been given and they should have had a man sent off.”
Meanwhile, in calm fashion, he also questioned Robson’s dismissal for two bookable offences, the first yellow brandished for him encroaching at a free-kick. “By the letter of the law, it probably was a booking, but it’s not always the case. For the second, he tried to get out of the way of [Holt], he has not blocked him, it was just he was too nippy.”
Aberdeen: Langfield, Jack, Hector (Smith 83), Reynolds, Considine, Anderson, Hayes, Flood (Robson 23), Pawlett, McGinn, Zola (Vernon 58).
Subs not used: Shaughnessy, Wylde, Low, Weaver.
Sent off: Robson (55, second bookable offence).
Hearts: MacDonald, McGhee, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie, Robinson (Smith 60), Hamill, Holt (Tapping 61), Walker (B King 90), Paterson, Stevenson.
Subs not used: Ridgers, McKay, Nicholson, Oliver.
Ref: I Brines