Goodbye to landmark turns sour as Hearts stumble again

Hearts substitute Liam Smith takes a fall after a challenge from Mark Reynolds at Tynecastle yesterday. Picture: SNS
Hearts substitute Liam Smith takes a fall after a challenge from Mark Reynolds at Tynecastle yesterday. Picture: SNS
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Ian Cathro had warned that it was unlikely to be one of the more memorable games to be played in front of the old, now condemned main stand. From a Hearts point of view at least, he was spot on.

From Aberdeen’s vantage point, this proved very acceptable fare. Second place is all but confirmed after goals from Adam Rooney and substitute Anthony O’Connor scored goals to take Aberdeen to the 70-point mark for the third 
consecutive season.

These strikes bookmarked Esmael Goncalves’ 61st minute headed equaliser, which now stands as the last Hearts goal to be scored in front of the Archibald Leitch designed main stand.

It was a decent enough effort, created by Liam Smith, a half-time substitute. His cross found Goncalves, whose determination to reach the ball ahead of Ash Taylor seemed fitting on a day of such emotional significance.

Sadly for Hearts, such a willingness to bust a gut was not seen often enough.

O’Connor, another half-time substitute, quickly extinguished thoughts Hearts might give the stand the send-off every home fan wanted. His looping header from Jonny Hayes’ free-kick just three minutes after Gonclaves’ goal underlined why Hearts seem such a soft touch at the moment. A cheaply conceded foul was then poorly defended and the home side were chasing the game once more. Rooney’s goal was his 20th, meaning he has reached this target for three successive seasons, becoming the first Aberdeen striker since the legendary Joe Harper to do so.

He was at his anticipatory best when following up Graeme Shinnie’s shot that Jack Hamilton failed to grasp, or at least push away from the danger area.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was almost purring at the end while noting his side had overturned expectations by batting off Rangers’ challenge for second place.

“It’s a fantastic result for the club,” he said. “To reach 70 points for the third time in a row; the first side outwith the Old Firm to do that in the SPL [era]. It is really important.

“A lot of people suggested that when we got to 70-odd points in the last couple of years it was because Rangers are not in the division. A lot of people, not everyone, but the majority, thought we’d get pushed aside and we would not get to that level again.

“Once it’s confirmed we can speak more about it,” he added. “But every other week people were saying Rangers would finish second, every other week a Rangers player was getting rolled out in the press and saying something similar. But we kept quiet and did our work.”

He referenced a passage of play at the end when Shay Logan ran fully 80 yards to cover after Kenny McLean’s loose pass as summing up the team. “Honesty is ripping out of us,” McInnes said.

But for Hearts, the moments that distinguished the last of 2253 competitive matches played in front of the main stand were sadly negative ones.

Not least the sustained booing when Don Cowie, the Hearts skipper, was chosen to be replaced by Bjorn Johnsen midway throughout the second-half.

“I think it’s clear that we wanted to change a midfield player for a striker,” explained Cathro afterwards. “Everybody knows the reason for that. Don is one of our most important players, quite possibly the most important, for a whole number of reasons. I understand it [the fans’ reaction].”

On a day which should have been about celebration and reflection there was more than a whiff of insurrection. When the Hearts players came out again at the end to mark the last home game of the season they were met by banks of empty seats.

After Cathro eventually joined them there was some very audible booing from the few fans who remained.

The emotion surrounding the day was channelled in the wrong way in the case of Jamie Walker, whose late challenge on Shinnie, while hardly a leg-breaker, was enough to merit a second booking in the dying moments.

It left ten-man Hearts with a seemingly impossible task to retrieve the situation. The deficit was still only one goal but having by then only had one shot on target, the odds they would score with their second shot seemed long.

In actual fact the second shot on target never did come, compounding the Hearts fans’ fury.