THEY might have a complicated relationship with Dens Park, but yesterday the stadium was a scene of joy for Hearts, who replaced Dundee at the top of the Scottish Premiership. In doing so their fans were able to hail a potential new striking hero in Juanma, a recent capture from Greek club Kalloni.
Juanma needed just seven second-half minutes to turn the game on its head after Dundee opened the scoring early in the first-half through Kane Hemmings. While Juanma’s intervention might have proved decisive, it was head coach Robbie Neilson’s input at half-time that should be considered almost as significant.
With Dundee deservedly ahead at the interval, Neilson put Alim Ozturk back into defence, and pushed debutant Juwon Oshaniwa further forward into midfield. Ozturk had originally been deployed to deal with Rory Loy’s movement. But in the end, Loy was not even playing due to injury. Instead, Ozturk tracked Gary Harkins, the Dundee playmaker.
If the idea was to stop Dundee creating chances, it plainly didn’t work. The home side could, and perhaps should, have been out of sight by half-time. But Hearts concentrated more on their own game in the second-half and benefited greatly from this switch in emphasis. Rather than worry about what Dundee might be able to do, they poured all their efforts into pinning their hosts back.
Perhaps it is something Paul Hartley, the Dundee manager, and Neilson can discuss the next time they are together on a Pro-Licence refreshers’ course. The pair studied together at Largs and are firm friends. On this evidence, it is Neilson – and Director of Football Craig Levein – who can feel satisfied that their ploy of scouring Europe for financially prudent recruits is the way forward.
While Oshaniwa endured an understandably testing first outing on account of his lack of match fitness, Juanma was a stand out after redeeming himself following a startling headed miss in the opening half. Even after his skewed effort in front of goal he had the confidence to equalise in the 56th minute from the penalty spot after the ball had struck James McPake’s flailing hand during a melee in the box.
Seven minutes later he struck an imperious opportunistic winner, stroking the ball into the net after leaving Dundee defender Julen Etxabeguren in a heap.
Dundee’s own policy of unearthing talent in the lower leagues in Scotland looked to be earning further reward in the opening stages. Hemmings’ last port of call was Barnsley but he earned rave reviews at Cowdenbeath alongside Greg Stewart, with whom he was reunited yesterday in attack.
The home side endured a blow when Loy was ruled out before the match due to a groin injury picked up in training. But they started most brightly, scoring the opening goal after only five minutes.
Hemmings had already turned Igor Rossi inside out in an ominous warning to Hearts. The corner earned from this attack proved profitable for the home side whose immaculate use of the ball was rewarded.
Stewart stroked the set-piece in to Paul McGowan, who quickly returned it. Stewart had advanced to the edge of the area and clipped a neat cross towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Hemmings rose to flick the ball into the net with his head.
Hearts should have been level after 14 minutes when a neat touch from Juanma left Walker with just Scott Bain to beat. The keeper blocked the shot but Walker was left with an apparently simple task of heading the ball into the net from the rebound. Instead, he hit it over.
A minute later Dundee should have stretched their lead. However, McGowan failed to squeeze the ball in at the far post after fine play from Hemmings on the left with Neil Alexander making a brave save at the base of the post.
Harkins was then left with another clear opening after a smartly worked 1-2 with Stewart, but the midfielder blasted into the side-netting. Hearts, too, had a glaring chance to score when Juanma managed to divert Ozturk’s cross wide of the post from the edge of the six-yard box.
But he earned redemption in some style in the second half with a solo winner after first dragging his side level from the spot. Picking up a loose ball in midfield on the hour mark he drove into the Dundee box, sidestepped Etxabeguren, and slotted the ball into the far corner.
Dundee: Bain, McGinn, McPake, Etxabeguren Leanizbarrutia, Holt, Ross, Thomson, McGowan, Harkins, Hemmings, Stewart. Subs not used: Irvine, Konrad, Meggatt, Ferry, Mitchell, Roberts, Kerr.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Augustyn, Igor Rossi, Oshaniwa (King 76), Ozturk, Buaben, Gomis, Walker, Sow (Nicholson 54), Delgado (Reilly 80). Subs not used: McHattie, Hamilton, McGhee, McKirdy.
Referee: Craig Thomson.