Aberdeen 0 - 0 Hearts: Lafferty sees red in Pittodrie stalemate

Referee John Beaton shows the red card to Hearts' Kyle Lafferty (left). Picture: SNS
Referee John Beaton shows the red card to Hearts' Kyle Lafferty (left). Picture: SNS
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Hearts created a significant slice of history with a sixth successive clean sheet for the first time since the club was formed 143 years ago, but it came at a cost as Kyle Lafferty received a straight red card that will keep the striker sidelined for next month’s Scottish Cup visit from Hibernian.

READ MORE: Scottish history timeline from 1054 to 2014

There was little festive cheer during a hard-fought 90 minutes but Lafferty certainly fulfilled the role of pantomime villain as far as the Aberdeen supporters were concerned as they jeered his every touch.

That was a legacy from his days at Rangers when the player faked being head-butted in an incident at Ibrox with the then Dons defender Charlie Mulgrew, although the jeers turned to cheers when Hearts’ leading goalscorer was sent off after scything into Graeme Shinnie two minutes from time.

Craig Levein thought referee John Beaton’s decision was harsh, but the Hearts manager must have been judging from the perspective of his own playing days in the 1980s as it seemed fair enough to nearly everybody else.

It wasn’t entirely surprising either to see someone sent off as the visitors had already had five players booked by that point as they defended desperately at times to extend their run to nine games without defeat and 561 minutes overall with losing a goal.

They certainly deserve immense credit overall for the way they achieved that as an already crippling injury list had Michael Smith and Anthony McDonald added to it in a bruising first half, but bodies were thrown on the line when required to augment some impressive defending.

John Souttar was often the key figure in that, drawing special praise from Craig Levein who knows a thing or two about the skills required in that position, so much so that the manager claimed the mooted £1m bid for the player from Derby County was below his worth in more ways than one.

“John Souttar was imperious against Hibs the other night and was just as good again today. He is developing into a top centre-half and his composure and passing was excellent” purred Levein afterwards.

“I couldn’t rule anything out but I haven’t heard anything at all ( about Derby’s bid), but if he keeps improving then I don’t think he’ll need to worry about Championships clubs.

“It is the first time in the club’s history and their names are in the record books. It was a real tough match for us and the players deserve great credit as their workrate was fantastic. We had good chances to win the game as well.”

They certainly did, with David Milinkovic failing to show the sort of composure that brought two goals in the recent win over Celtic as he blinked when staring at the whites of Joe Lewis’s eye after being sent clear on goal.

That was in the first half, while Isma Concalves miscued in front of goal as Hearts counter-attacked more effectively in the second period as Aberdeen threw more and more bodies at that unbreakable Jambos backline.

Harry Cochrane bent a shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area, but in truth it would have been an injustice had Hearts headed back to the capital with maximum points.

After all it took at least three excellent saves from Jon McLaughlin to ensure the Tynecastle team needed no let off from officials to keep a clean sheet this time, and give further proof why Levein has already opened talks on an extended contract for the former Burton Albion goalkeeper.

Derek McInnes was certainly impressed, particularly by McLaughlin’s astonishing instinctive save to deflect Adam Rooney’s well-struck shot in the first half wide of the target and a similarly impressive stop from Scott McKenna’s header after the break.

Half-time substitute Greg Stewart, Gary Mackay-Steven, Ryan Christie and McKenna with another header all went close during an increasingly intense second period, but at the end they failed to eat into Celtic’s eight-point lead at the top or move more than three ahead of Rangers who they visit in the first league game after the break.

Not that McInnes was too upset about that after adding Niall McGinn to the squad during the week, with the prospect of a couple more to follow before they head to Dubai next month as he said: “I’m not too down. I’m disappointed we haven’t won the game and disappointed for the crowd. The roof would have come off had we got the goal and the fans recognise we did everything we could to try to win the game.

“I’m optimistic about the second half of the season. The new lads are more aware of the demands and what is expected and hopefully we can get something similar to last season when we set off like a train in the second half of the season.”