Ross County 1 - 2 Hearts: Ten-man Hearts hold on for victory

Esmael Goncalves celebrates his goal with Kyle Lafferty. Picture: SNS
Esmael Goncalves celebrates his goal with Kyle Lafferty. Picture: SNS
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Whatever the sophisticated nature of the online financial fraud alleged to have syphoned funds from Hearts’ bank account, home supporters trudging away from the Dingwall ground, judging by muttered complaints, felt done by a good old-fashioned case of daylight robbery.

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That may have been harsh on the visitors. Hearts’ effectiveness in the final third surely edged the outcome, with Jamie Walker highly-influential in creating one and scoring the other goal.

There was no doubt, though, that Owen Coyle’s first home bow as Dingwall manager, 16 years on from briefly playing here under Neale Cooper, might have turned out differently had Willie Collum answered repeated pleas for penalty kicks.

County remain fragile defensively and Hearts, not the most solid side in the country so far this season either, capitalised on what Coyle will see as work-in-progress.

Not long after Walker restored the lead at 2-1, the capital club lost Connor Randall to a red card leaving them up against the ropes for a lengthy uncomfortable spell which saw County’s earlier scorer, Davis Keillor-Dunn, draw a crucial parry close-in from keeper Jon McLaughlin.

At least twice, the hosts howled at referee Willie Collum with justification for a spot-kick. The first in the prelude to Hearts’ opener when Andrew Davies was rag-dolled by Christophe Berra at a corner; the second when Thomas Mikkelsen was similarly manhandled late on.

Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, craves momentum and normality for the Jambos in this bizarre season of extended away trips before the consecutive Edinburgh-based matches now lying in store through to the second half of December.

Three capital dates – against St Johnstone and Rangers at Murrayfield, either side of an Easter Road visit – will be prelude to the homecoming party against Kilmarnock on November 5th.

“On past evidence, Tynecastle is the place where we pick up most points,” a satisfied Levein said. “I want to try and get us into a bit of momentum before we go back there, so we are feeling good about ourselves and that win will help.

“Today was good. I was, overall, really pleased with the way we played. We’re not on a roll yet with any major momentum, but for long spells in the first half I felt we were doing the things I hope that we will do week in and week out.”

Walker’s endeavours gradually began to give Hearts the upper hand in the first period with Goncalves failing to connect properly with his dangerous cross after 17 minutes. A minute later, Walker buzzed into space and thrashed a 25-yard shot just over the County bar, with Don Cowie flashing a low attempt wide from similar distance soon after.

County threatened with a corner after the half hour, with big defender Andrew Davies claiming he was bundled over by Berra as he made to connect with Michael Gardyne’s swirling delivery.

Hearts broke and punished the hosts from the clearance. Michael Smith’s punt found Walker controlling at pace. The midfielder fed the ball across to Goncalves six yards out, and the striker lashed low into the net with his left foot.

The Tynecastle club’s thoughts of a half-time lead were quickly found to be premature as County retaliated immediately. From the restart, they attacked with Jason Naismith finding Keillor-Dunn in the box.

The youngster glided across the outside of the six-yard box and chose his moment to slam a finish past keeper Jon McLaughlin with great confidence.

It was pretty ragged stuff into the second half, uncompromising in the physical battle, with referee Willie Collum resorting to a rash of cards.

County had a Craig Curran penalty claim for a tug waved away before Hearts regained the lead on the hour. It was a well-worked move culminating in Randall feeding Walker, who finished with an exquisite lash into the roof of the net without a second thought.

Randall’s contribution was swiftly followed by a red card after taking out Jim O’Brien, earning a second yellow, but County couldn’t capitalise.

A disappointed Coyle felt he drew valuable insight into Ross County’s failings this season, even if felt harshly denied by the match officials. “There’s a few frustrations. There were probably five or six penalty appeals,” said the ex-Bolton and Blackburn boss. “When all is said and done, that’s why we got the job. We didn’t get the job because we we’re top of the league.”

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