NOBODY in the Aberdeen ranks was buying into talk of a hoodoo but they were at a loss to explain how they have gone so long against Hearts without scoring, let alone winning.
A 2-0 defeat at Tynecastle on Saturday extended their run of games without a win over the Edinburgh side to nine games and made it almost 14 hours of play without a goal.
Aberdeen pointed to the fact they had created chances and, in the opening and closing stages, they did carve out a few.
They claimed that Hearts had benefited from a penalty Dons manager Craig Brown described as “soft” and then a slip by young full-back Joe Shaughnessy, which let them in for their second goal.
But, while Dons defender Mark Reynolds said he could not comment on past results, he gave the real reason why they had failed to halt the poor run.
“It was something we had gone out to change but, to be fair, they just wanted it more,” said the former Motherwell player, who returns to his old stamping ground on Tuesday as Aberdeen try to reach the next round of the Scottish Cup.
“We have a lot of players out injured and the league is very tight and, the way results are going, everyone is in a pack but we are not getting results just now so it looks like our toughest period. We should be getting goals and results.”
Like the cup game with Motherwell, Aberdeen started Saturday’s match against Hearts in the ascendency but faded before going behind. Once again they tried to come back into the match in the final period but while they had salvaged a draw last weekend to earn Tuesday night’s replay against Motherwell, there was no way back against John McGlynn’s men.
Reynolds added: “We need to go there and want it more than we did today and we need to fight for everything, compete for every 50-50 ball and, if we do that, then we can win it. But, whenever the ball broke or a tackle went in, they were getting to it first and that’s not good enough. It is always difficult here and we just never stepped up. We made two daft mistakes, giving away a penalty and then Joe slipped for the second one.”
The penalty, which Reynolds described as “silly”, turned the game on its head. Hearts had been forcing their way back into things but the goal gave them the advantage. Given their defensive record, it was a big ask for their guests to overhaul it.
It was Josh Magennis’s transgression which resulted in Ryan McGowan’s tumble to the turf, allowing Ryan Stevenson the opportunity to opening the scoring from the spot.
“The ref said he was pulling him and, if he was pulling him, then it’s a penalty,” said Reynolds, “We need to defend smarter than that. It was a cheap, cheap goal to give away and it changed the face of the game.”
The early chances had fallen to Aberdeen as they won corner after corner and camped out in the Hearts half. Jonny Hayes had a couple of chances but the home defence was not breached and that’s where the will to win came into it. Every loose ball was collected by a maroon shirt and the attacking down the right flank with McGowan and Stevenson setting a great example for their team-mates, was a massive headache for Aberdeen.
The fact that Hearts had options up front also gave them more of an outlet than they would normally have had.
The home crowd cheered their approval when it was announced McGlynn had opted to start with two strikers, John Sutton and Gordon Smith. With the movement of the latter and the aerial ability and doggedness of the former, Hearts had a partnership which played a significant role in their win.
“They have been biding their time and training away and the manager has given them their chance and they came in and grabbed it with both hands,” said Stevenson, who went off at half time due to the effects of a head knock but was still given one of the sponsors’ man of the match awards, such was his input.
“They are two very good strikers and they will only get better the more game time they get. Both are more than capable of scoring and it was a positive thing that we went with two up front,” added Stevenson.
It gave the defence and the midfield something to aim for, it prevented the ball coming back at them time and time again and it meant there was someone to hold it up and allow them time to get up in support.
“That’s what we have been struggling with,” said Stevenson. “The defence have been outstanding but, a lot of the time the ball does come straight back at us. But I can’t really remember anything bouncing off Sutty today and that alone helps create chances and takes some of the pressure off and Gordon gets round about defences so the full performance was good.”
With Stevenson off, he was replaced by Callum Paterson, who had been dropped to give the two strikers their chance. But Paterson’s 53rd-minute goal was a reminder that he remains a valid contender for one of the forward berths.
Smith had put in the groundwork, advancing on the right and, although he got the lucky break when Shaughnessy slipped, he capitalised on it, crossing for Paterson, who gave Jamie Langfield no chance.
Aberdeen tried to get back into it and all three subs had chances late on but the run without goals continued.