If ROSS County’s fairytale maiden SPL campaign does fall agonisingly short of clinching a European berth, the Dingwall side will surely cast rueful glances toward this inexplicable five-minute capitulation in the Gorgie sunshine.
Scorers: Hearts - Ngoo (49, 84), Holt (79), Ikonomou (80 og); Ross County - Wohlfarth (22, 54)
Bookings: Hearts - Tapping, Ngoo; Ross County - Lawson
Derek Adams’ men were the dominant side for large periods of a thoroughly engrossing encounter at Tynecastle and should have had three points securely sewn up before the resurgent hosts claimed a scintillating 4-2 triumph.
Aside from a peerless display of finishing from two-goal Steffen Wohlfarth, Ivan Sproule, a former favourite at Hibernian on familiar ground in the capital, was responsible for two gilt-edged misses.
That profligacy was punished as two goals from Michael Ngoo, a super Jason Holt strike and a baffling Evangelos Ikonomou own goal earned a first win for Gary Locke since being appointed permanent Hearts manager.
“We should have been absolutely out of sight, we had four great opportunities in the first half,” said Adams, evidently puzzled and frustrated. “We were totally in command of the game and it is not one we should ever have lost. But we have made mistakes and did not take our chances when they came along.
“We were punished severely today, but it was ridiculous for us to lose that match. It is difficult to explain a five-minute spell like that after they were not really in the game. Against Kilmarnock last week we gave them a bit of a doing yet didn’t win the match, and it is the same here,” he added.
Despite a bright start from a youthful Edinburgh ensemble, Locke’s charges toiled under the visitors’ first period of concerted pressure and, in truth, should have been out of the game by the interval. Wohlfarth, one of several astute January signings by Adams, rolled the sluggish Jamie Hamill, making his first start since April 2012, on the left flank before
haring into the box.
With no right to even attempt a shot from such a prohibitive angle, the German proceeded to curl a magnificent effort across the flailing MacDonald into the top-corner. The lead should have been doubled minutes later as a fragile Hearts side, on a run of seven defeat in nine outings, visibly wobbled. Wohlfarth slipped Sproule through on goal but the former Hibs man fired the ball straight at Michael Fraser.
The excellent Kevin McHattie produced a ferocious effort on goal from all of 35 yards which kissed the post on its way wide before MacDonald was again forced to deny Sproule.
Locke made drastic changes at the interval by replacing Tapping and Taouil with Arvydas Novikovas and Holt, and within minutes Hearts claimed the equaliser.
McHattie delivered a fantastic cross from the left which allowed the towering Ngoo to head past Fraser from six yards, the on-loan Liverpool forward’s maiden strike at Tynecastle. Parity proved fleeting for the Gorgie outfit. Iain Vigurs whipped in a fantastic corner allowing Wohlfarth, under little pressure, to glance the ball past MacDonald. Holt, displaying far more attacking intent than the ineffective Taouil, produced a marvelous moment of magic on 78 minutes to level the scores, beating Fraser with a spectacular volley from 18 yards and County, previously composed and dominant, utterly collapsed. Jamie Walker was sent scampering into the box and produced a mis-hit effort which trundled towards goal. Cypriot defender Ikonomou had ample opportunity to clear the ball before it crossed the line yet inexplicably smashed it into the roof of his own net.
Ngoo was similarly clinical when fed through on goal seconds later. “I said to the players: ‘I’ll have plenty of performances like the second half, but don’t give me any like the first’,” beamed Locke.
“I tried to change things and be a bit more positive after the break and I was certainly a lot happier. As a team we produced the performance we needed.”