A STOPPAGE-TIME equaliser from Iain Vigurs rescued a point for Ross County and denied Hearts victory at the end of an enthralling game in the Highlands.
Scorers: Ross County: Quinn (20); Hearts: Ngoo (31), Walker (63)
Goals from Rocco Quinn and Michael Ngoo saw the half-time score level, and it looked like Jamie Walker’s glancing header on 63 minutes was sufficient to win the game for Hearts until Vigurs’ late intervention.
An open game saw some neat and tidy passing from the young Hearts players, with Michael Ngoo a constant threat up front. County, though, can always score goals with Quinn, Vigurs and Richard Brittain probing from midfield. Quinn in particular had an outstanding game for the hosts, was involved in both goals and led by example in a central area.
Hearts named an unchanged side for this re-arranged fixture, whilst Ross County replaced the injured Ivan Sproule with 21-year-old winger Alex Cooper. The hosts attacked from kick-off but the first opening was fashioned by Hearts’ Billy King for Jason Holt, forcing the County goalkeeper Mark Brown into a low save. Holt flicked a superb first-time ball into Ryan Stevenson’s path on 11 minutes, however the midfielder’s left-footed attempt was wide.
In what was transpiring as a very end-to-end first half, County forced several corners and moved ahead when one of them landed in Quinn’s path for a first-time finish from the edge of the penalty area. The ball ricocheted off Stevenson on its way past Jamie MacDonald but it could be argued the good fortune was reward for the Highlanders’ attacking intent.
Ngoo delivered Hearts their reward with a powerful run and finish on 31 minutes. He collected Stevenson’s forward ball and set off for goal past both Ross County cente-backs. First he evaded Grant Munro, then at full pace his strength saw him hold off a second challenge from Scott Boyd. The finish past Brown was unstoppable as the Englishman lashed his second goal in three games since joining Hearts.
MacDonald sprung high to his right to deny Vigurs a likely second goal on 36 minutes, and at half-time 1-1 was a fair reflection of this encounter. In the second half, Hearts increased the pace and their tidy and crisp movement of the ball created a second goal for Walker on 63 minutes.
Stevenson fed the ball into Ngoo on the edge of the Ross County penalty area, and the striker stroked it wide for Mullen to cross on to Walker’s head. The winger isn’t noted for his aerial ability but there was little wrong with his glancing header, which nestled in the corner of the net out of Brown’s reach. It was Walker’s first senior goal and he gratefully accepted the adulation in front of the ecstatic travelling support.
Brown’s outstretched left arm prevented Stevenson stroking a third Hearts goal after some intelligent build-up play involving an interchange between Ngoo and Holt. At the opposite end, MacDonald held a looping shot from Paul Lawson as the game entered its last ten minutes. The visitos had controlled the second period but a heavy, threadbare pitch took its toll on many of their players.
Brown produced a stunning save to push Andy Webster’s volley over his crossbar following a corner. Thereafter, Hearts retreated towards their own goal in defence of their slender advantage. It proved costly as Vigurs prised an equaliser in time added on. MacDonald parried Quinn’s low shot and the midfielder converted the rebound from close range to level the match.
Ross County (4-3-3): Brown; Kovacevic, Boyd, Munro, Oikonomou; Brittain, Quinn, Lawson; Cooper (Glen 65), Morrow (Wohlfarth 65), Vigurs. Subs: Fraser, Kettlewell, Hainault, MacPhee, Dingwall.
Hearts (4-3-3): MacDonald; Mullen, Webster, Zaliukas, Wilson; Holt (Barr 83), Tapping (McGowan 90), Stevenson; B King, Ngoo, Walker (Novikovas 85). Subs: Ridgers, Sutton, Taouil, Driver.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.