Hearts stopped a run of three consecutive defeats as Esmael Goncalves’ first-half goal secured a deserved victory over an insipid Dundee side in the Tynecastle sunshine.
Without excelling, the under-pressure hosts, who had lost six of their previous seven games, were well on top for much of the match and rarely looked like relinquishing their advantage amid an occasionally tetchy atmosphere. The victory kept Hearts within five points of St Johnstone in the race for fourth place in the Premiership.
Ian Cathro made three changes to the side that started in the back-to-back defeats against Celtic and St Johnstone. Arnaud Djoum, Liam Smith and Prince Buaben came in for Bjorn Johnsen, Tasos Avlonitis and Lennard Sowah. It meant Hearts kicked off with the same unorthodox defence that finished in Perth on Wednesday, with right-back Andraz Struna at left-back and Buaben, ordinarily a midfielder, partnering Krystian Nowak in central defence.
After enjoying the lion’s share of the early possession, Hearts went ahead from their first clear chance in the 13th minute. Don Cowie slipped a pass through to Esmael Goncalves and the Portuguese forward did well to hold off a challenge before sending an angled shot beyond Scott Bain. Dundee defender Darren O’Dea got the final touch, but the ball appeared to be crossing the line anyway.
At the other end, Hearts attacker Jamie Walker made a vital tackle in his own box to stop Tom Hateley as he burst on to a head-flick from Marcus Haber.
Hearts threatened a second in the 22nd minute, but Goncalves fresh-aired his attempted volley after being picked out by a cross from Cowie. Walker then surged into the danger area but saw his low shot from 25 yards out easily gathered by Bain.
The hosts went desperately close to a second in 39 minutes when Arnaud Djoum’s downward header from a pinpoint Cowie cross was clawed out by Bain.
Dundee, who had barely threatened in the first half, almost snatched an equaliser two minutes before the break when Hateley’s inswinging free-kick eluded everyone, but Hamilton reacted superbly to tip the bouncing ball on to his left-hand post.
Chances were few and far between in the second half. Alex Tziolis and Djoum both threatened with shots from the edge of the box for Hearts within ten minutes after the restart.
The hosts had a major let-off in the 63rd minute when Struna’s slack pass inside was seized on by Wighton, who outmuscled Nowak to get himself clean through on goal, but the Dundee teenager screwed his shot horribly wide with only Hamilton to beat.
Hearts almost fluked a second in the 71st minute when Goncalves’s powerful shot from 30 yards out deflected off substitute Malaury Martin’s head but Bain reacted well to make the save.
Hearts: Hamilton; Smith, Buaben, Nowak, Struna; Cowie, Kitchen, Tziolis, Walker (Currie 64); (Martin 60); Goncalves. Subs not used: Noring, Avlonitis, Choulay, Beith, Johnsen.
Dundee: Bain; Higgins, O’Dea, Holt; Hateley, O’Hara, Vincent, McGowan, Kerr; Ojamaa (Wighton 59), Haber. Subs not used: Mitchell, Ross, Dryden, Smith, Gomis.
Ref: Crawford Allan