THE importance of any result in football is something that often can only be judged in hindsight. Yet, there was an inescapable feeling that Hearts’ wholly unexpected victory at Pittodrie on Saturday was hugely significant.
Scorers: Aberdeen - McGinn (27); Hearts - Walker (66), Paterson (74), Stevenson (90)
Referee: I Brines
And, whatever happens when Gary Locke’s side entertain Ross County after the international break, in certain senses it was. A fact succinctly summed up by Callum Paterson, who netted the decisive second on an afternoon when the previously toiling Tynecastle team staged a remarkable comeback.
“No-one expects us to go on a ten-game unbeaten run, and we haven’t really been under any great pressure,” the attacker said of the fact that an eight-game winless slump in the Premiership was ended with the 3-1 victory. “But that is a massive weight off our shoulders and we just need to carry it on now.”
That, of course, is the challenge. Hearts were able to dig out a first league win since August – when they last played Aberdeen, also the last time they scored more than once in a game – because fortune certainly favoured a pretty brave bunch of boys, all told.
Had Jamie MacDonald not saved a penalty by Niall McGinn just before half time, and just after the Irishman had broken the deadlock, then the pummelling the visitors were taking at that point could have turned into another dispiriting defeat. Equally, had referee Iain Brines adjudged that Ryan McGowan blocked a Calvin Zola shot on the goalline with a raised arm – as he appeared to – in the seconds before MacDonald’s spot-kick save, then it also could have been curtains. Add to that Barry Robson getting himself sent off ten minutes into a second period when Aberdeen continued to make all the running, then it is unlikely that the impetus would have switched to Locke’s side as they launched a Jamie Walker-inspired fightback.
“We have always been there or thereabouts and just needed a few breaks on and off the park. And it seems that we are getting them now,” said Paterson, the player perhaps considering that the club’s administrators BDO having put together a CVA proposal represented progress that could yet mean the registrations embargo at Tynecastle will not remain in place right throughout the January transfer window.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes certainly considered that his opponents at the weekend led a charmed life, considering that McGowan should have gone and Robson not, the midfielder’s second booking the product of a block on Jamie Holt that was the result of the veteran being unable to get out of the way of the on-rushing Scotland under-21 player. Yet, considering that it seemed Brines gave a penalty for the ball appearing to hit the back of Jordan McGhee, and not his arm, then the official’s iffy decision-making wasn’t all one way.
Moreover, Hearts clawed their way back into the contest courtesy of class, and not controversy. Locke admitted afterwards that Walker’s consistency had deserted him in recent months but in the 66th minute on Saturday he was suddenly reborn. He demonstrated a sublime touch to kill a Danny Wilson flick-on from a free kick, and a wand-like foot to take the ball round Jamie Langfield. His jinking down the left ten minutes later that allowed him to weave his way round red shirts as if they were traffic cones before picking out Paterson for a tap-in was equally exquisite. “What he did for his goal was unbelievable, and to do what he did at the byline and cut it back for me…it was just so unselfish,” said Paterson.
The long-range screamer that allowed Ryan Stevenson to put the outcome beyond any doubt in added time was the cue for delirium to engulf the travelling support. As they walked off, many Hearts players threw their jerseys into that section, which was certainly a significant moment with these tops commemorating McCrae’s Battalion, the players who joined up for the First World War effort and that are always acknowledged in the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday. “The history of the club is massive and the fans have been massive to us. We have to keep repaying them and our team talks are always about the fans,” said Paterson.
McInnes’s next team talk, which will be at Celtic Park in a fortnight, will focus on the injustice of the weekend outcome that ended a winning run across all competitions that was the club’s longest since 1996.
Whatever the match circumstances, the fact that it was Hearts – a team unable to show any league form but the dismal variety in the month before – who were able to end this run must be a starting point for the Tynecastle club to eat into a points deficit that now stands at 13 after second-bottom Kilmarnock lost at the weekend.
Locke admitted: “If we don’t get a lift from this, we never will”, while Paterson believes the lift should be obvious. He said: “We have beaten one of the best teams in the country, and if we can beat them, we can beat anyone else.” That remains to be seen.