Dundee manager Neil McCann had considered taking Kerr Waddell off as he sussed out a way to rejig his team and try to force Hearts on to the backfoot.
In the end, he opted to leave him on, sacrificing captain Darren O’Dea instead, and it proved an astute decision as the 19-year-old rose to head home a corner deep into stoppage time.
“I thought in the first half we were excellent,” said McCann. “We were so brave. I could hear the fans getting upset as we tried to work if from the back.
“But, with wee Moussa up top, this is the way I wanted to play. Eventually Hearts couldn’t cope with it and they changed their system. With that, they started giving us a few problems so I had to change.
“I had a decision to make whether I took off Darren or Kerr but in hindsight it was probably the right decision!”
Almost a carbon copy of the goal the young defender had scored at the end of the first half, it was enough to give the home side the victory and leave Hearts manager Craig Levein shellshocked.
The nomadic side had been unbeaten in the past three matches. But, with draws outnumbering wins, they had been hoping to start turning stalemates into victories to leave them more comfortably placed ahead of their homecoming next month. An inability to defend corner kicks meant a draw morphed into defeat. “Losing the game in that manner is tragic, especially given the amount of effort we put in throughout the second half. It’s the absolute basic of basics to pick up men at corner kicks,” said the livid Levein.
“We were excellent in the second half and should have had the game dead and buried and to shoot ourselves in the foot like that near the end was mind blowing. You can sit on the training ground and do things time after time...and, okay, our lads were blocked at the corners but it’s up to them to make sure that doesn’t happen. All the effort and hard work we put in going into this game went out of the window.”
They were not aided by the early withdrawal of Aaron Hughes, who had been struggling with a calf problem in the build up. But, that aside, they were also slow to get into their stride.
Dundee had the early efforts. In the 16th minute O’Dea sent his header from a Kevin Holt corner over and in the 22nd minute Lewis Spence’s long-range strike trundled wide. Hearts’ Kyle Lafferty shrugged off a sickness bug and a headline-grabbing week to lay a pass off to Connor Randall but his low angled drive skirted narrowly wide of the far post. With seven minutes of the half remaining, Jamie Walker’s attempt was deflected high and wide for a corner but the visitors were struggling to mine any real rewards from set pieces.
The same could not be said for Dundee in the 43rd minute, when Holt sent in another testing corner and Waddell got up above everyone else and powered his header down past Jon McLaughlin. It was his first goal for the club. “We didn’t play particularly well in the first half and never really found a rhythm or pattern to our play,” admitted Levein, “but in the second half we looked more comfortable. We played as well as we have in that period since I’ve come back into the job and the worst I thought we’d take from the game was a draw. I’ve experienced all emotions today.”
Roarie Deacon shot into the midriff of McLaughlin three minutes into the second half but it was a rare venture forward for the home side as Hearts began to take control. Isma Goncalves broke through in the 53rd minute but his bundled effort was cleared from the line by Dundee’s Jack Hendry.
Goncalves then had another effort, when he brought the ball down on his chest and lashed his strike off the underside of the bar.
It has been a difficult week for Lafferty, with his gambling problems made public and a sickness bug compounding his difficulties but he was bright and determined and when he finally found the breakthrough, from the narrowest of angles, in the 70th minute, he ran to the dug-out to celebrate with those who have been an off-field crutch.
The opportunity came courtesy of a slack pass from Sofien Moussa, who was still distraught at his mistake when he was substituted in the 76th minute.
But while Hearts looked the likeliest to secure all three points, with Walker, Lafferty and Randall all testing the resolve of Dundee keeper Scott Bain, the disconsolate Tunisian had Waddell to thank for helping him out the hole he had not only dug for himself but looked like he wanted to be buried in.