Hearts 1 (Pospisil 82)
Inverness CT 0
IT'S official. The best place for a goalkeeper like Craig Gordon is in the stand, not on the pitch and not even on the bench. The intimation from within the debt-laden walls of Tynecastle after Scotland's No.1 and transfer-in-waiting not only continued his absence from Hearts' starting line-up but was cast into exile among the paying public.
No closer did Gordon get to seeing action against Inverness than a brief peek out of the tunnel around 90 minutes before kick-off, his expression downcast. In his absence, his deputy Steve Banks - if indeed the assignation of roles has not now been reversed - was efficiency personified, holding the Highlanders at bay whenever required.
The official explanation was mental - mental fatigue that is. The enigma that is Valdas Ivanauskas insisted Gordon's omission was "for his own good" and due to the strains caused by speculation over his future. Discussions have been held but to no avail, he said.
"The transfer window was very hard for the young boy. The speculation was not so good. Steve did well. He stopped chances," said the coach. Will Craig Gordon ever play again for Hearts? "Definitely." When might he be ready for a return? "Maybe next week," was the inconclusive response.
Regardless of the result, one wonders if the Lithuanian coach is on a shoogly peg. In a week in which the spotlight has been turned on the mountain of debt being run up on the books of Ukio Bankas, his absence from the training ground at Riccarton has been barely noticed. To Paris, then Vilnius, and eventually back to Edinburgh to preside over what was a somewhat fortunate victory.
Michel Pospisil's 82nd-minute header went someway to obscure other ills. Andrew Driver's astute delivery into the box from the left was met by the Czech striker at the far post and he headed across Michael Fraser into the net.
Inverness, by custom, are not the best of travellers. This made it eight straight SPL defeats away from the Caledonian Stadium but while they battled their hardest, the lack of cutting edge was transparent.
"That was like the Caley Thistle of old, in our first season in the SPL," Charlie Christie appraised. "We were content to lump the ball forward and chase it. I think we're better than that now."
In front of the lowest home crowd of the campaign, the hosts had made five changes from their Scottish Cup defeat to Dunfermline, something which passes for consistency these days.
Notably, Arkadiusz Klimek, their recently-acquired Polish striker, made his debut and provided a physical presence if not a telling one. Early on, he drove a cross from the re-invented right winger Calum Elliot high over the bar then quickly demonstrated an equal willingness to play the foil by teasing Richard Hastings on the right before attempting to set up Edgaras Jankauskas.
"I felt a lack of fitness," admitted the Pole. "I tried my best today."
There will be more to come from him, no doubt, but after an indifferent debut seven days previously, Laryea Kingston, was more up to speed on his second outing. In tandem with Julien Brellier, he was given licence to roam and while he is no substitute for Paul Hartley, he did enough to suggest he might earn a spot in Ivanauskas' mythical first-choice 11.
Banks produced a save Gordon himself would have savoured, leaping to his right to heave Graham Bayne's header away in the game's opening attack.
Just before the break, the Englishman shone again. Barry Wilson - surviving his 300th appearance for the visitors despite an early head wound - picked up possession on the edge of the box. He slipped as he took aim but the trajectory became the bottom corner and Banks forced it around the upright.
What Hearts lacked in possession, they made up for in chances. Driver tested Fraser with a shot the Inverness keeper couldn't hold after half an hour then twice in quick succession in the second period, he burst forth from midfield to pressurise the visitors, chipping high and wide on his initial attempt, pummelling over on his next go.
Driver, his youth aside, has had his promise questioned of late, but the young Englishman was terrific throughout, nominally patrolling the left but unafraid to cut inside. It was as mature a performance as he has yet produced.
Caley eschewed sub-ordination. With his midfield colleagues creating little, McBain tried to drive his team forward and tried to beat Banks once more, this time without undue menace. Rory McAllister almost broke the stalemate with 20 minutes remaining, nodding Hastings' high ball onto the bar. Yet such chances come and then disappear forever.
Ivanauskas rejigged his forward pairing by introducing both Roman Bednar and Pospisil and it paid dividends within two minutes of the latter's arrival.
"I felt tired after, not so much physically but psychologically because last week was a shock for the players when we didn't deserve to lose," the Hearts coach confessed. "Now I am tired but also pleased."
MAN OF THE MATCH: Andrew Driver. Plenty of promise, not all of it fulfilled but this was an occasion on which the hype was justified. He brought something no-one else could which lit up an often dour encounter.
ASIDE: Craig Gordon looked somewhat forlorn in his club suit looking on. He arrived at Tynecastle side by side with Steve Banks. Short odds on which one will be heading out the door first.