Aberdeen-Hearts reaction: Pittodrie pops with relief, Jambos duo flatter to deceive, Lawrence Shankland's gesture

Aberdeen’s season could pivot on big win over Hearts – whose failings were cruelly exposed in second half

This felt like a big win for Aberdeen, as their euphoric players roared in the rain in front of the Red Shed. An hour earlier it was a different story, but a charismatic second-half performance against Hearts at Pittodrie landed them a 2-1 win and those jeers turned to cheers.

On a five-match winless run in the Premiership, had Hearts held on to their one-goal lead at half time, then they would have remained in third place and moved 13 points clear of the Dons. Lawrence Shankland had put them ahead on 20 minutes and while the Dons improved marginally after a slow start, their fans booed them off the pitch at the break. Rejuvenated, Bojan Miovski netted eight minutes into the second period and just at the start of stoppage time, Leighton Clarkson scored the winner. Pittodrie popped with joy – and relief.

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Aberdeen have quite the week coming up. Eintracht Frankfurt – fresh from spanking Bayern Munich 5-1 in the Bundesliga – are in the north-east on Thursday for what is essentially a dead rubber Europa Conference League tie, even if it carries prize money and prestige. Of greater significance is the Viaplay Cup final against Rangers at Hampden three days later. Dons manager Barry Robson had come under some pressure following defeats by Hibs and Kilmarnock but this comeback eases that and raises spirits across the club.

Leighton Clarkson bagged the winner for Aberdeen in stoppage time against Hearts.Leighton Clarkson bagged the winner for Aberdeen in stoppage time against Hearts.
Leighton Clarkson bagged the winner for Aberdeen in stoppage time against Hearts.

By contrast, the Hearts bus back down the A90 must have been a sombre vehicle. Shankland’s diving header from an Alex Cochrane corner put them in the driving seat and they were marginally the superior team in a cagey first half of little chances. They were compact and resolute in those 45 minutes but as Aberdeen regrouped and threw bodies forward, their resistance broke quickly. Only Frankie Kent emerges from the backline with any credit. The equaliser was lamentable from a Hearts perspective, Jamie McGrath able to bundle the ball into the path of Miovski inside the penalty box all too easily despite plenty of defenders on the premises. The North Macedonian’s effort smacked the post on its way in.

How Hearts managed the match thereafter left their boss, Steven Naismith, livid in his post-match press conference, saying his players lacked character and were “bullied”. The Jambos became an ineffective force in the final third after Miovski’s goal and Aberdeen always looked more likelier to grab a winner. It came at the beginning of eight minutes’ stoppage time, a long ball from Nicky Devlin down the right causing both centre-half Kyle Rowles and goalkeeper Zander Clark to momentarily dither. Substitute Duk raced in and had the presence of mind to square for Clarkson, who belted in from close range.

The frustration in Hearts’ ranks was summed up at the end, with captain Shankland caught on camera giving the home fans in the South Stand the middle finger after the full-time whistle, no doubt in response to taunts from the Dons support. With St Mirren and Hibs picking up wins, Naismith’s team drop to fifth in the table ahead of next weekend’s trip to Celtic Park.

This is a fixture that is so often a home banker – Hearts’ barren spell here goes back to 2016, when Abiola Dauda scored in a 1-0 May win. Perennial poor travellers, four away wins this season – more than the entirely of the 2022/23 campaign – had given their sizeable away support genuine hope of victory, but what will concern them is the galling lack of fight when the going got tough. It has been said many times before, but only Shankland looks a veritable goal threat, with Alex Lowry and Kenneth Vargas once again flattering to deceive. The reliance on the Scotland striker is too much.

Lawrence Shankland put Hearts ahead with this diving header.Lawrence Shankland put Hearts ahead with this diving header.
Lawrence Shankland put Hearts ahead with this diving header.

One positive on a grim day for Hearts was an appearance from defender Craig Halkett from the bench. The influential centre-half has been absent since last Christmas Eve due to a knee injury and given his form prior to injury initiated chatter of a Scotland call-up, this is a real boost for Naismith. Goalkeeper Craig Gordon – also crocked in that disastrous day up in Dundee – was once again among the subs and looked sprightly during the warm-up. One wonders whether he will be called upon sooner rather than later.

This was Aberdeen’s moment, though. Robson will hope vanquishing Hearts will act as the catalyst as they look to scale the league table once European business and the small matter of a cup final against their bitter foes from Ibrox are taken care of.