Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has described striker Abiola Dauda as “different class” after the substitute scored twice in a 30-minute cameo to seal a hard-fought win for the Tynecastle side at Ross County.
County looked set to prevail in the battle of third place v fourth place and hit the crossbar through Liam Boyce, who signed a new contract until 2018 on the day of the game. But it was Dauda, signed last week on transfer deadline day on loan from Vitesse Arnhem, who stole the show for injury-hit Hearts.
The Nigerian scored twice in the last six minutes to secure the three points after Jamie Walker’s opener for Hearts shortly after half-time. Dauda’s cameo suggests Neilson was right when he said the striker is a better all-round player than China-bound Osman Sow, who he was signed to replace.
“He changed the game for us, he is quality,” said Neilson. “He is probably not 100 per cent fit. He had a full 90 minutes on Sunday in the derby which is probably more than he should have had given his injuries and problems we have had.
“But tonight he got 30 minutes. We are just trying to build him up slowly.
“The first goal was different class,” he added. “It was a top, top finish. No one is expecting him to hit it, there’s no backlift and it goes in the bottom corner. That’s the sign of a good striker.
“That’s him on two games two goals, and I hope that continues”. Neilson admitted his side rode their luck at times last night.
“We got a bit of luck in that one,” conceded the head coach with reference to his side’s opener, which owed a lot to fortune after Jackson Irvine’s attempted clearing header struck Walker and went into the net.
Hearts are now 11 points clear of fourth-placed County, and have a game in hand.
“It was a big game for us tonight coming up here,” added Neilson.
“They were on the back of a great result at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final, and a Scottish Cup quarter-final. They were hunting us down. But we sent out a statement that the gap is there.”
Opposite number Jim McIntrye found it hard to credit that his side took nothing from the game.
“It sounds strange to say we played well and got beat 3-0 but we did play well,” said the County manager.
“For large periods of the game we looked the more likely, so from that point of view I can’t be disappointed with what the players gave me. Individual mistakes happen and a couple of those contributed to the goals.”