JAMIE WALKER’S fifth goal in seven games earned Hearts a fourth successive league victory without conceding a goal.
The winger struck early in the second half to settle a game of many chances at Dens Park and ensure Hearts remain comfortable in third place in the Premiership.
The visitors created enough chances to win two games if the truth be told. Dundee also had opportunities and it required a goal line clearance from Liam Smith late in the game to keep them out. Hearts ended the afternoon defending their narrow advantage but took three points back to Edinburgh thanks to the in-form Walker.
After wins over Kilmarnock, Inverness and Partick Thistle inside a week, this triumph put them a massive 15 points ahead of the clubs in joint fourth place in the table - Ross County and St Johnstone.
Ironically, Walker missed a glorious chance in the opening seconds after sprinting in behind the dithering Dundee back line. His shot rolled tamely past Scott Bain’s left post. Moments later, his low cutback was flicked into the goalkeeper’s grasp by striker Juanma.
It was a sprightly opening by Hearts, who were enjoying particular success down the right flank. Don Cowie’s foray down that side produced a corner on 14 minutes, from which Juanma’s bulleted header was beaten away by Bain.
The visiting goalkeeper Neil Alexander punched Greg Stewart’s corner out from under his crossbar as the half-hour approached. Dundee were trying to get at their opponents and Stewart appeared to be their biggest threat. On 33 minutes, he raced down the right past Alim Ozturk and Prince Buaben but his cutback eluded those waiting in the penalty area wearing dark blue.
Walker wriggled away from Kostadin Gadzhalov to create another opening for Hearts which Cowie scooped over the crossbar from close range. The Edinburgh side did have the ball in the net on 38 minutes, although Jordan McGhee - deputising for the injured Igor Rossi - was flagged offside after heading home Cowie’s free-kick.
The former Scotland midfielder was enjoying another strong performance in midfield. He got in behind Dundee again two minutes from the interval. His low cross was perfect for Arnaud Djoum to stroke into the net but the Cameroonian’s connection was weak and the ball rolled wide.
For all Hearts’ dominance, they would have fallen behind in the first minute of the second half had it not been for Alexander. A run and cutback by Nick Ross found Paul McGowan near the penalty spot for a first-time shot which the Hearts goalkeeper pushed away. Ozturk completed the clearance.
Another attempt from McGowan flew wide when he tried to catch Alexander out after the keeper left his box to clear. Minutes later, Cameron Kerr slid in to convert one of Stewart’s low deliveries only for the ball to loop over the bar. Dundee had made a bolshy start to the second period but were left to curse their finishing when Walker broke the deadlock on 53 minutes.
The goal arose from a sublime through pass by Djoum which found Walker on the run in behind the Dundee defence. He touched the ball round the emerging Bain and slotted into an empty net with his left foot. Most of his colleagues followed him out towards the corner to celebrate an important goal at a timely juncture.
The United States internationalist Perry Kitchen made his Hearts debut as a replacement for Sam Nicholson as the final 15 minutes approached. The visitors’ determination not to concede was exemplified when young right-back Liam Smith cleared off his own goal line to deny Dundee substitute Rory Loy. The striker had fastened on to McGowan’s penetrative pass, his shot was held up by Alexander but would have bounced into the net had Smith not lofted it to safety.
That was the best opening the hosts could fashion. The final whistle sounded against the backdrop of a 1,400-strong Hearts support chanting about their team heading for Europe.
Dundee (3-4-1-2): Bain; McGinn, O’Dea, Gadzhalov; Kerr, McGowan, Ross, Holt; Harkins; Stewart, Hemmings.
73: Wighton for Gadzahlov
78: Loy for Harkins
Unused subs: Mitchell, Konrad, Meggatt, Low, Arturo.
Hearts (4-1-3-1-1): Alexander; L Smith, Ozturk, Souttar, McGhee; Buaben; Cowie, Djoum, Nicholson; Walker; Juanma.
73: Kitchen for Nicholson
77: Reilly for Juanma
90: Pallardo for Walker
Unused subs: Hamilton, Augustyn, Oshaniwa, Dauda.
Referee: Willie Collum.