Failure to win when victory would have secured a top-six place and after opening the scoring in two minutes would normally incur displeasure, but Craig Levein seemed content in the knowledge Hearts have played far better and lost.
It was difficult to see any resemblance between this Hearts side and the one that produced the high-tempo performance to dismantle Celtic, for example. Indeed, this latest display perhaps sums up why Hearts have left it so late to secure a top-half finish: inconsistency and an ongoing failure to reproduce their home form on the road.
These days it seems headline news if a teenager is not included in the Hearts starting XI; this was the second successive outing where this was the case.
Levein later expressed some disquiet about Harry Cochrane playing three times while away with Scotland Under-17s having just recovered from a hamstring injury. But Levein saw the need to turn to his youth brigade by the end. Three teenagers, including Cochrane, came on from the bench. It was as if Levein was making a point to those initially entrusted with gaining the win he hoped would guarantee Hearts a top-six berth.
It wasn’t to be. At least not quite yet, mathematically speaking. But credit should go to Dundee who brought to an end a spell of atrocious home form to secure a draw. The concern for Neil McCann, particularly when he surveys the league table, is that this brighter performance did not yield the three points it probably deserved.
The hosts regrouped well after conceding inside the opening two minutes. Lesser sides might have crumbled. As a statement underlining how the players are prepared to work to preserve their top-flight status and rally round McCann, who is fighting a touchline ban, it was persuasive.
Sickened by the loss of an injury-time goal on their last visit here, Hearts started with purpose. A flowing move saw Don Cowie feed Marcus Godinho, who slipped in a pass for Ross Callachan. The midfielder stepped inside Josh Meekings and picked out a spot in the far corner with a sublime, curled finish. Over 700 Hearts fans sprang to their feet in the early afternoon sunshine while just under 5,000 home fans groaned about having seen this movie before.
Dundee have made an art form out of conceding the opening goal. This was the ninth successive league game in which they have fallen behind. It isn’t helping their chances of staying up and has already torpedoed their top-six ambitions.
Hearts could seal their own place as soon as Tuesday if Motherwell fail to win against Aberdeen. That will be success of sorts. But there’s still much work to be done, as Levein alluded to last week when revealing the need for multiple new signings this summer.
They could have gone a long way to securing only a fifth away league win of the season, and their first since January, had Kyle Lafferty buried a chance to put his team two goals up after 26 minutes following a neat dummy from Steven Naismith. The Northern Irish striker endured a frustrating afternoon that included being booked for simulation in the box after a challenge from Steven Caulker.
When given the chance to make amends after 26 minutes Lafferty failed to strike the shot properly although Elliott Parish made a good stop low to his left.
As so often happens, not only did Dundee breathe a sigh of relief after the let-off, they took heart from it. Two minutes later they were level and, for Sofien Moussa, it was something of a collectors’ item: the centre forward’s first league goal from open play this season. While the finish itself was not aesthetically pleasing – the Tunisian seemed to apply the all-important touch with his thigh as he slid in at the far post – the build-up play saw the strike elevated in status to very good goal indeed, from a Dundee point of view at least.
Mark O’Hara slung the ball out wide to Roarie Deacon, whose right-footed cross was sent into an area that begged for someone to attack it. The goal was extra redemptive for Moussa, whose poor back-pass let Hearts back into the game in September when these sides last met at Dens.
His league haul of five is made up with four penalties. Having scored freely in the Betfred Cup, he has since struggled. The fact he has retained his place in the side as late as Easter is down more to the lack of alternative options.
But Moussa played well here against two of Scotland’s finest centre-halves in John Souttar and Christophe Berra and deserved the applause he drew when substituted with five minutes left.
Dundee had made and spurned numerous chances by then. Deacon was the obvious culprit although he created the opportunities well for himself before being let down by his finishing. Naismith was also on hand to clear Simon Murray’s header off the line just after the hour mark.
Hearts midfielder Joaquim Adao picked up a head injury, which was evident when he hit a pass to no-one on the far touchline. Whether he was seeing things, who knew?
But Kevin Clancy, an overly fussy referee otherwise, made what seemed a sensible intervention in this instance. He all but demanded for Adao to be substituted. Cochrane replaced him, which meant Hearts now had three teenagers on the pitch – Euan Henderson and Lewis Moore were sent on, for Danny Amankwaa and Callachan, with 20 minutes left.
Dundee tried and failed to turn the screw with Paul McGowan, the game’s outstanding performer, curling just wide after an advance down the left from substitute Kevin Holt.