ABERDEEN ended a three-year sequence without so much as a goal against Hearts by recording a comfortable victory in manager Craig Brown’s last game at Pittodrie.
Scorers: Aberdeen: McGinn (10, 55)
Niall McGinn’s double secured the three points, putting to bed a period of utter dominance by the Edinburgh club in this fixture.
Not since January 2010 had Aberdeen scored against Hearts - a run of nine games in total. That came to an end after just nine minutes as McGinn stroked the opening goal, followed up by a magnificent individual effort by the Northern Irishman after the interval.
Brown will soon make way for the incoming Derek McInnes and the former Scotland manager was given a rousing send-off by the home support. This was Gary Locke’s first league match as Hearts manager, and he restored Callum Tapping to his team in place of the injured Darren Barr.
Michael Ngoo was presented with an clear early chance after Jamie Walker dispossessed Clark Robertson, however the Englishman shot straight at the outrushing goalkeeper, Jamie Langfield, when he ought to have done better. Minutes later the profligacy was punished as Aberdeen scored. Ryan Jack played a weighted through pass to Jonny Hayes, his intelligent square ball eluded the Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald and was stroked home by the unmarked McGinn.
From Dylan McGowan’s right-sided cross, John Sutton angled a header towards the top corner which Langfield beat away to safety. The striker was winning virtually every high ball and looked Hearts’ most dangerous attacker. On 29, minutes, he flicked Walker’s cross goalwards only to see the ball bounce off Langfield’s left post before being smothered.
The first 30 minutes were bossed by Aberdeen, with Hayes a particular menace on the right. The Hearts left-back Kevin McHattie struggled to contain the winger, whose movement and pace set him apart. Josh Magennis wasted several chances in behind the visiting defence but, as the interval approached, Hearts began to perform better. Langfield was again called upon to push away a low attempt at goal by Walker.
The same player tested Langfield early in the second period before Magennis had an effort ruled out for offside. The result was put beyond doubt when McGinn produced a marvellous solo goal on 55 minutes. He skipped past Mehdi Taouil, Tapping and McGowan on the left side before angling the ball into the far corner of the net via a slight deflection. It was his 19th goal of the domestic campaign, and a crucial one in Aberdeen’s attempts to make the SPL top six.
Hearts defender Jamie Hamill replaced McGowan moments later to complete a 12-month rehabilitation from a ruptured cruciate ligament. Hayes then prevented a certain goal for the visitors by blocking Danny Wilson’s shot on his own goal line following a corner.
The match petered out thereafter with Aberdeen sensing they had done enough to win. Hearts tried to get forward but often lacked guile, save for Walker, with Ngoo looking particularly dejected up front. With their club guaranteed to occupy the bottom half of the SPL after the split, many of the 450-500 fans who travelled from Edinburgh will be counting the days till this season ends.
Aberdeen (4-4-2): Langfield; Shaughnessy, Anderson, Reynolds, Robertson; Hayes (Pawlett 84), Jack (Smith 89), Rae, McGinn; Magennis (Low 86), Vernon. Subs: Rodgers, Milsom, Fallon, McManus.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; McGowan (Hamill 59), Webster, Wilson, McHattie; Walker, Tapping (Novikovas 59), Stevenson, Taouil; Sutton (Carrick 78), Ngoo. Subs: Hamilton, Holt, McKay, G Smith.