A home draw lacking in any sort of zeal or quality was not the result Hearts envisioned as they sought to break themselves out of a recent funk that has gripped the end of an otherwise successful season.
While third place was only officially wrapped up after a 0-0 draw with Inverness last month, in actuality it’s been their position since a four-game winning streak culminated in an impressive 1-0 win at Dundee in mid-March. Since then Hearts have hit a bit of a malaise, winning only one in their last seven fixtures and are currently sitting joint-bottom of the Premiership form table with Saturday’s visitors.
At the conclusion of the match a couple of boos could be heard after David Goodwillie, pictured, cancelled out Juanma’s opener, both goals coming within the final ten minutes, but the majority of the home audience could barely muster the strength to be vociferous in their disapproval.
While there is no doubt a few players in the home ranks would have had their name prefixed with a casual swear word or two in fans’ post-match dissections, one player sure to earn a healthy amount of praise was midfielder Perry Kitchen. The Tynecastle support have been impressed with what they have seen of the USA international thus far in his short Hearts career, and having been the latest player to arrive following his signing in March, he represents real hope that the club’s management will do the sort of recruiting required in the summer to push Aberdeen further for the best-of-the-rest mantle or, better yet, launch a title challenge next campaign.
Though his supporters are casting glances into the future, Kitchen has to remain rooted in the present as he attempts to show national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann that he is worthy of a place in his country’s Copa America squad. To celebrate the competition’s centenary, six teams from North and Central America have been invited to play in the traditionally South American tournament, which will be held in the United States.
Kitchen has been named in the initial 40-man squad, which will be whittled down to 23 for the championships. Having missed out on USA’s most recent international fixture – a double-header against Guatemala in World Cup qualification – due to a long period of inactivity prior to his move to Edinburgh, Kitchen knows forcing his way in will be tough on this occasion, but he is doing his chances no harm with a string of impressive showings in a maroon shirt, including being named as the home side’s man of the match against County.
“Ross County have had an impressive season and we knew what they were going to be all about and that they would make it tough for us,” reflected Kitchen. “We have to show better character to see the game out. It’s tricky with me coming in mid-season because I’m just getting going but that’s the way it is – I can’t do anything about that now.
“It’s an honour to be in the provisional squad and it would be great to be included, but that’s up to Jurgen and his staff. The tournament starts early in June so the squad will meet up early and prepare. If I get an email saying I’ve made it then that would be awesome.”