These encounters are rarely for the timid of heart or the sensitive of soul. They are gutsy, full-throttle battles of body, mind and ego, whilst, in the stands and in the technical areas, the lust for supremacy verges on the carnal.
They are engrossing in the way of a Quentin Tarantino movie. They bludgeon you around the head, but no matter how ugly and gladiatorial they get, you just can’t look away.
These are two clubs who each consider themselves the third force in Scottish football, and last season, in the absence of Rangers in the top flight, they set about trying to prove they were at least second, although for periods they privately harboured hopes they could upset the odds and end the campaign first.
That gave the games an extra edge and on the evidence of this one, that hasn’t been blunted by the start of a new season.
Aberdeen came out on top in the Premiership standings last term, finishing second to the Gorgie side’s third, but Robbie Neilson’s men won the head-to-head battles three to two. That was an influencing factor in Derek McInnes’ summer shopping. Feeling his men had often been out-muscled rather than out-played in those encounters, Jayden Stockley was brought in to add greater physicality to the frontline. But having failed to find the breakthrough, he was eventually replaced by Adam Rooney with Aberdeen still trying to convert their first-half dominance into something tangible.
At that stage Hearts looked to have weathered the storm and were finally troubling their hosts on a more sustained basis, with Tony Watt getting more and more involved, his input ranging from lung-bursting runs from his own half in on goal to efforts from the edge of the box and improving link up play with those around him. Hearts conjured up some chances, and were dangerous at set pieces, but the fact is neither keeper had much to do of major consequence.
Hearts had been forced to reshuffle the starting line-up, Jamie Walker beginning his two-match ban for being found guilty of diving against Celtic last week and there was a suggestion that the team as a whole are now paying for his misdemeanour, with a decent first-half penalty shout for a challenge on Sam Nicholson waved aside. When Neilson remonstrated, he was spoken to by referee Kevin Clancy, the officials not happy with his arm movements according to the Tynecastle boss, who said he would try to keep his hands in his pockets from now on.
With Walker out and Aberdeen’s Jonny Hayes still injured, the game was robbed of two of the more creative players and it was telling in terms of the quality of football on show, but it did nothing to detract from the desire and the doggedness of both teams.
The home team definitely had the better of the first half, with Peter Pawlett, Graeme Shinnie and Wes Burns all coming close in the opening ten minutes before a last-ditch intervention was required to halt Niall McGinn’s foray into the box soon after. Burns then had an effort crash back off the woodwork before Nicholson had the penalty shout. At that stage the aggression shown by Hearts as they tried to get a grip on proceedings incurred the wrath of the referee with Watt, Faycal Rherras and Prince Buaben picking up bookings in quick succession. The latter two did not re-emerge for the second half, with American international Perry Kitchen and young right-back Liam Smith replacing them. The former helped the guests gain more control in the middle of the park.
“We moved the ball about well in the first half and we had to make more of that good play,” said McInnes. “But there was a clear lack of energy in the second half, and a lack of quality. And that was because players were clearly out on their feet. In the last 20 minutes we were plodding. That’s the consequence of four games in nine days.”
Hearts felt they had earned a draw, with the better chances in the second half. Kitchen tried a long range effort, Conor Sammon just failed to get above a Nicholson ball flighted to the back post and then Watt could have sneaked it. With three minutes remaining, the ball was fed through to him in the box, but he could not keep his balance and sent his shot high over the bar.
READ MORE - Five things we learned from Dundee 1 - 2 Rangers