Ross County held Hearts to a goalless draw despite finishing with ten men after Ian McShane's late red card. Several first-half scoring chances were passed up by those in maroon, and after a keenly contested second half the Highlanders left with a point.
McShane was ordered off with six minutes left after two cautions in quick succession. However, there wasn't enough time for Hearts to force a winner. Five minutes of stoppage time came and went and the hosts were forced to accept a draw despite enjoying a lot of the ball.
Again there was a familiar look to Hearts' starting line-up with head coach Robbie Neilson favouring continuity in his team selection. Arnaud Djoum and Conor Sammon were reinstated at the expense of Jamie Walker and Bjorn Johnsen respectively. Liam Smith, the 20-year-old right-back, has joined Raith Rovers on an emergency one-month loan.
This was Perry Kitchen's first match captaining Hearts since taking the armband from Alim Ozturk. He was heavily involved from kick-off as the hosts tried to seize the initiative. They broke forward following a Ross County corner on ten minutes and constructed a fine, flowing attack. It finished when the visiting goalkeeper Scott Fox tipped Tony Watt's final shot over his crossbar.
County players howled for a goal ten minutes later. A free-kick from their right was hoisted into the air by Callum Paterson six yards from goal. The dropping ball was met by Andrew Davies, whose header hit the underside of the Hearts crossbar and bounced downwards. From the press vantage point it was impossible to tell if the ball crossed the line but several of the Highlanders appealed strongly.
Hearts promptly cleared their lines and mounted a counter-attack through Sam Nicholson. His through ball from the right to Watt was touched into Sammon's path. The Irishman's shot was pushed away by Fox and the rebound cleared by Marcus Fraser just before Watt could prod it into the net.
Fox again rescued County by stopping Igor Rossi's header on the run from Don Cowie's corner. The goalkeeper was having an excellent game and proceedings were certainly lively at that stage. Ozturk entered the fray after half an hour to replace the injured Souttar. He would have appreciated his warm welcome from the home support after a difficult week.
Sammon really ought to have put Hearts in front moments later when another opportunity arrived. Sent through by Watt's lofted pass, the striker looked unconvincing dispatching a low shot from around ten yards which struck the Fox's legs. At half-time, the feeling was Hearts' profligacy in front of goal might prove costly.
That theme continued after play restarted, although the tempo of the game did increase significantly. Nicholson sprinited into the penalty area to collect Watt's angled pass, however his finish hit the outside of the goalframe. Challenges in midfield became more feisty as both teams battled relentlessly.
Hearts introduced Walker in the hope of finding a breakthrough, and then replaced Sammon with Bjorn Johnsen. County weren't giving an inch, though. They broke up play intelligently and, whenever possible, tried to waste time in an attempt to leave Tynecastle with a point. It all made for an air of thick tension around the stadium entering the final ten minutes.
Watt angled a free-kick over Fox's crossbar and McShane then found himself booked twice in three minutes. First he fouled Walker and then a late lunge on Faycal Rherras led to his dismissal. With ten men, County had to camp themselves in and try to see the game out, which they did successfully.
Hearts (4-4-2): Hamilton; Paterson, Souttar (Ozturk 30), Rossi, Rherras; Nicholson, Kitchen, Djoum, Cowie (Walker 68); Sammon (Johnsen 79), Watt. Unused subs: Noring, Buaben, Nowak, Muirhead.
Ross County (4-1-4-1): Fox; Fraser, Quinn, Davies (McEveley 79), Van der Weg; Routis; Franks (Dingwall 46), McShane, Woods, Gardyne; Boyce (Curran 64). Unused subs: McCarey, Cikos, McEveley, Chow, Morrison.
Referee: Alan Muir.