Wins like this are almost becoming routine for Hearts and it enabled them to move within three points of leaders Celtic but the big question was: what would Robbie Neilson say?
The Tynecastle manager had delivered an outstandingly grumpy verdict on his team’s previous performance – a thumping 4-0 win at Partick Thistle – which had echoes of Alex Ferguson’s infamous moan at the manner the 1983 Scottish Cup had been won by Aberdeen.
“I thought we played some good football,” Neilson said after goals from Prince Buaben and Arnaud Djoum had secured the Gorgie boys their fourth league victory in a row. “In the first half we played really well, scored a couple of goals, but in the second half the game got a bit scrappy.
“We wanted to get a third goal but in trying to do that you have to open up a little bit so we just took the two-nil.”
Before the match, Tynecastle remembered the Hearts players who’d died on the battlefields of the First World War. Poppies were everywhere – it was maybe a good thing Sienna Miller didn’t attend, the actress having caused offence by not wearing one on her round of chat-show appearances.
She missed a tousy affair which occasionally threatened to match that incendiary one between the sides earlier in the season, but in the end both teams managed to keep 11 men on the park.
Neilson admitted he withdrew Juanma Delgado to avoid the possibility of a second yellow card and noted that Martin Canning appeared to do the same to protect Chris Turner.
“It was such a physical game that it only takes one tackle and they’re off,” Neilson said. “Juanma is a physical boy. Sometimes faced with a guy like that defenders think they can go beyond what’s accepted and Juanma, who’s got the latin temperament, needs to realise that. But I thought Bobby Madden refereed the game quite well: two physical teams and no red cards.”
The afternoon’s dreichness had cleared by kick-off but the pitch still seemed pretty sodden. In the opening minute Dougie Imrie hared after a long pass, couldn’t stop his slide and crashed into a ball-boy. The crowd guffawed until it was obvious the lad needed the assistance of Hearts physio Karen Gibson before returning gingerly to his post.
The beginnings were scrappy and tetchy. Osman Sow went close with a header from a Paterson cross and then midway through the first half Jesus Garcia Tena – who got the winner at New Douglas Park – saw his free-kick deflected over the bar.
Then, following a spate of fouls and grumbliness, Hearts scored. Sow began the move and Sam Nicholson on the left slipped the ball inside to Buaben. Twenty yards out, the midfielder bulleted a right-foot shot which Michael McGovern didn’t even sniff. Hamilton tried for a quick response. From an Imrie free-kick, Carlton Morris aimed a header for the bottom corner of Neil Alexander’s net but the goalkeeper got down to tip it away.
Hearts’ second came after another bad-tempered interlude to test Madden’s patience as the bookings rose to four. Nicholson crossed and Sow looked to be in a great position to score. But he realised that Djoum was in an even better position. Sow’s deft pass to the Cameroonian midfielder for a simple tap-in had been the cleverest moment of a thudding 45 minutes.
Hamilton had been hoping to solidify their top-six place and their 302 fans will have hoped for a second-half improvement, but Paterson almost increased Hearts lead from yet another free-kick, with McGovern required to produce a fine fingertip save.
Accies did get better but the bookings continued. At least when Morris racked up the sixth it was for something different. The striker claimed for a penalty after a tangle with Blazej Augustyn but Madden adjudged him to have dived.
Canning thought the official got it wrong. “I’ve seen it back and it looks a penalty,” he said. “The boy comes across, Carlton sticks it through his legs and he’s brought down. But we conceded two poor goals.”
So can Hearts challenge Celtic? “You guys might talk about a title race but we’re not,” said Neilson.
“We were looking at the Aberdeen score coming in – that’s who we’re aiming for.”