The season is still in its infancy but already Aberdeen and Hearts have had to dig deep. The latest war of attrition between the teams, at Pittodrie, took a lot out of the sides in exchange for one point apiece.
It was a fair enough result on a day when the home team dominated the first half and their guests had the better second-half chances.
That was down to his players running out of steam, according to Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes, who said it was understandable given the fact it was his team’s fourth game in nine days, with lengthy midweek trips to Slovenia and Ayr included in that mix.
“It was a tough game with chances few and far between,” admitted the Dons’ Graeme Shinnie. “We got in good areas but our final ball maybe let us down. After the week we have had, the fitness, grit and determination was there. I think everyone knows that if you have four games in nine days it is going to take a toll on the last game and the travelling we have done is incredible. I think the last 20 minutes were always going to be like that.”
Hearts had been under the cosh throughout the majority of the first half, with the home side setting out to secure the three points before the legs and the lungs started to hurt, but while Peter Pawlett, Shinnie and Wes Burns all came close and a timely intervention was needed to halt Niall McGinn before he could pull the trigger, the hosts could not find a way past the dogged Hearts rearguard.
Burns then saw his effort come back off the woodwork before the guests had what looked like a decent penalty shout as Sam Nicholson was bundled to the turf.
Given the week of controversy over diving by a Hearts player – with Jamie Walker sitting out the match for the first of his two-game ban – it was perhaps not too surprising that the officials waved aside anything other than an absolute certainty. But it prompted a tete-a-tete between an animated Robbie Neilson and the referee, who had apparently taken umbrage at the Hearts manager’s arm movements.
The Tynecastle side have also had a tough start to the season, their Europa League exit, followed by a high-intensity display against Celtic in their opening Premiership fixture, the Walker fallout and another testing 90 minutes against St Johnstone midweek, before this trip to the north-east.
“They had a lot of possession but second half I didn’t think they created too much, I thought we had the better chances,” said John Souttar (pictured inset), who, along with his defensive colleagues, had attracted criticism from their manager as they exited the League Cup. They made up for it with this well-earned clean sheet.
The most notable of the chances referred to fell to Tony Watt, who should have netted the decisive goal with three minutes left but despite some neat footwork setting up the shot, he was off balance as he ballooned it over.
The most costly aspect of the day, though, could be the number of Hearts yellow cards. The team added another five to the 12 they picked up in their two games earlier in the week but Souttar is unperturbed. “This result shows we mean business this season,” he said. “After what has happened a lot of teams and players would have crumbled but we stood up to the challenge.
“Bookings are part of football especially when you are playing top teams. In big games it is always fiery. We want to be up there challenging again. There are going to be a lot of tackles in a game like this. If you want to win leagues then you have to be aggressive. You can’t always play pretty football. When you get a point without playing as well as you can then that shows character.”