This was the type of match by which end-of-season fixtures have largely become known: muted atmosphere, little in the way of entertainment and supporters turning up out of a sense of loyalty rather than expectation.
The only variation on the stereotype, other than each side grabbing themselves a goal amid some merciful late drama, was that both sets of managers were insistent a lack of application was not the problem. Correlation does not imply causation. Just because this was a dull game at the end of the season, doesn’t mean the impending summer break was the reason why.
“It wasn’t the best game in the world to watch,” admitted Ross County boss Jim McIntyre, “but I thought there was plenty of toil from both sides.” To which his opposite number Robbie Neilson responded: “I think Jim’s right. The effort was there, the quality just wasn’t.”
Both managers actually played their part in the frustrating stalemate. Neilson set out his side with three industrious midfielders in a four-man central unit with the unflashy Gavin Reilly partnering the equally understated Abiola Dauda in attack, while McIntyre opted for a 4-5-1 formation that asked a lot of lone frontman Alex Schalk. In essence, both sides cancelled each other out in an uninspiring first half.
The visitors created the first and, other than the goals, best chance of the match thanks to a lovely weighted pass from Martin Woods and even better touch from Schalk. It allowed the Dutchman to run through on goal, but young keeper Jack Hamilton, quick off his line, was equal to the effort, repelling it with his torso.
This briefly shook the hosts into life as they went close not long after. Reilly played in Dauda and the striker looked odds on to score when covering defender Andrew Davies slipped and Dauda got to the ball ahead of the onrushing Scott Fox. However, his touch was too heavy, taking him wide of goal, and when he cut back for Prince Buaben the best the midfielder could muster was a scuffed effort that was cleared off the line by Chris Robertson.
Robbie Neilson responded to the turgid opening period by making a double attacking-substitution at the break, Juanma replacing Reilly and Arnaud Djoum coming on for Don Cowie. The change almost had an instant impact as Djoum swung over a cross for Buaben to fire back across goal at the far post, the midfielder seeing his effort touched away by the boot of Fox.
Djoum was at the heart of the action again a short time later as his low cross just evaded Dauda running into the centre of the penalty area, though the game soon dropped off again with a ‘rabona’ cross by Callum Paterson the highlight of the following 20 minutes.
Buaben went close once more after being found by a deep cross from Juanma, before the two linked together to create the opening goal. On this occasion the roles were switched, with Buaben’s low ball from the right converted by a determined Juanma who forced himself ahead of his marker at the front post.
While the home crowd had suffered through an impatient 83 minutes for a goal, such a wait was nothing compared to County substitute David Goodwillie. The former Scotland international hadn’t netted in any competition since the last time he visited Tynecastle on league duty, way back in late September when he scored twice for Aberdeen in a 3-1 win. His manager Jim McIntyre admitted afterwards that Goodwillie’s ability to seemingly only score in Edinburgh played a part in the decision to sub on the struggling hitman, and he duly repaid his boss with a close range finish following a looping cross from Woods that dropped between the Hearts back-line and goalkeeper.