EVERYTHING about this match was one-sided – but for long enough it looked like the scoreline would not reflect the superiority which Hearts enjoyed almost from first kick to last.
SCORERS: Hearts - Sutton (86)
Then, with four minutes to play, Hearts manager John McGlynn brought first Arvydas Novikovas, then John Sutton, off the bench. Barely 60 seconds later, the pair combined to make the breakthrough that had been promising to arrive for so long.
Novikovas drove down the left and delivered a looping cross beyond the far post. Sutton dived in and, in a goal reminiscent of the one Kevin Kyle scored in the 2011 New Year derby, bulleted a header past Rab Douglas, who had kept Dundee in the game up to that point with a fine display in goal. The goal was enough to give Hearts their first points against Dundee this season after two defeats.
Hearts quickly took control of the first half without being able to create many scoring chances against a well-drilled defence. Billy King, making his debut wide on the right in place of Andy Driver, had a lively start, although at times was nudged off the ball too easily.
The introduction of King was one of just two changes made by McGlynn from the team which won through to the League Cup final with a penalty shoot-out victory over Inverness Caley Thistle on Saturday. The other saw the return from a two-match ban of Ryan Stevenson, who replaced the suspended Scott Robinson in midfield,
Michael Ngoo and Jamie Walker both came close to opening the scoring in the same incident with quarter of an hour on the clock. First Walker’s shot from the right edge of the box was blocked and rebounded to Ngoo, whose shot was saved by Douglas. As the ball trickled wide of goal, Walker slid in and redirected it towards the net, but Douglas recovered in time and stopped the ball on the line.
The same two Hearts players continued to be the principal threat to Dundee throughout the half. With 30 minutes gone, a powerful shot from the left of the penalty area by Walker was turned round the corner by Douglas. Then Ngoo was unlucky to see a header off crossbar.
Although pinned back for much of the opening 45 minutes, Dundee were dangerous on the break, never more so than close to half-time when John Baird broke down the left. His cross curled out to the far side of the box, from where Nicky Riley shot wildly over the bar.
The last significant action before the break, that incident was a reminder to Hearts of the danger of pressing up too much. They had dominated the previous game at home to Dundee in similar fashion, only to lose it 1-0 after failing to make the pressure count.
A significant difference between then and now, of course, is the presence of Ngoo up front. Although the on-loan player’s primary role is as a target man, he showed a willingness to put in a lot of work tackling back once his team-mates lost possession. Tenacious in the tackle, he regained possession several times after initially losing it, using his height and strength to good effect.
At the start of the second half, Jason Holt then became the latest to force a good save from Douglas, and five minutes after that chance King was presented with the best scoring opportunity of the match to point.
Holt did the hard work on the left before sliding a well-weighted pass into the path of the debutant. From around 12 yards out King looked like at the very least forcing Douglas into another save, but instead he pulled his shot wide of the left post. Another move down the left between Walker and Ngoo ended in a shot by the tall striker which came off a defender’s arm. The claim for a spot-kick looked stronger than the previous one, but again the referee refused the home team’s appeals.
King was next to try his luck at getting the better of Douglas, beating two men on the right, cutting in and driving a shot a goal. Again, however, the veteran goalkeeper was equal to the challenge, saving low to his left.
Marius Zaliukas’s possible availability had attracted a number of scouts to Tynecastle for the match, among them the former Swiss international Stephane Chapuisat, representing Young Boys of Bern. The centre-half is out of contract in the summer and so would be able to join a new club then without a fee, but Hearts would be happy to cash in now if a reasonable offer were made. In truth, though, this match, played on a heavy surface and in intermittent rain, was never going to be an ideal showcase to persuade any potential employer of the home captain’s merits.
With quarter of an hour to play, Dundee manager Barry Smith made the first substitution of the evening, putting former Hibs midfielder Kevin McBride on for Riley. Novikovas and Sutton followed for Hearts, and within a minute of the latter’s introduction, that double switch made the difference.
Novikovas could have made it 2-0 just after that from a Ngoo cross, but as he slid in he could only steer the ball wide.
Hearts: MacDonald, Mullen, Webster, Zaliukas, Wilson, King (Novikovas 84), Tapping, Stevenson, Holt (Sutton 86), Walker (Driver 90). Subs not used: Ridgers, Barr, Taouil, McGowan.
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Gallagher, Toshney, Easton, Davidson, Riley (McBride 75), Harkins, J Baird, McAllister, Nish. Subs not used: A Baird, Lockwood, McGregor, Benedictus, Conroy, Stewart.
Referee: C Allan