With pressure increasing on Ian Cathro and Hearts with each passing fixture it was a case of “any win will do” prior to yesterday’s meeting with Dundee. Eventually holding on to Esmael Goncalves’ 13th-minute winner, the home side picked up a victory that was of immense importance to their rookie head coach, as an already dissatisfied support may just have turned mutinous had the result gone any other way.
It may not have been Hearts at their best. It wasn’t even Ian Cathro’s Hearts at their best. But it was a ground-it-out victory against a team fighting for their Ladbrokes Premiership lives. It was the type of result we’ve yet to see from this team, who tend to win big when they don’t lose.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s the first time we’ve dug out a result,” said Cathro. “Previously when we’ve got ourselves ahead you see the team start to fly and we get a bit more clinical. For that reason there’s an extra importance from this result. We now know we can win 1-0 as well as 4-0.
“I’m not going to call it the first step, but it was important we won. We need to immediately move forward.”
The home side started the brighter and found themselves in front early on. Don Cowie played through a perfectly weighted ball for Goncalves, and despite not finding the net from open play since early February, the striker kept his cool to touch past a sliding Paul McGowan before firing beyond Scott Bain. Dundee captain Darren O’Dea nearly blocked it on the line, but could only help the effort on its way.
The visitors almost answered immediately with Tom Hateley stealing a free run at the back post to meet Marcus Haber’s flick on. The midfielder looked certain to level the scores until Jamie Walker appeared from nowhere to make a miraculous last-ditch challenge.
Hearts controlled the rest of the half without being too dominant, though they could count themselves unlucky not to have doubled their lead when Goncalves and Arnaud Djoum each had chances via cross balls from Cowie. Goncalves swiped and missed a Cowie cut-back from the right, and ten minutes later Djoum was denied by an excellent save from Bain following Cowie’s whipped delivery from the other side.
Dundee almost went into the half level when Tom Hateley’s inswinging free-kick evaded everyone and nearly crept in. Jack Hamilton pulled off a reactionary save at the last possible second to turn the ball on to the post.
In a bid to add some attacking impetus, Dundee introduced Craig Wighton on the hour and the 19-year-old almost had an instant impact. Robbing Krystian Nowak following a short-pass from Andraz Struna, the young substitute brushed off the retreating defender and advanced on Hamilton. Inexplicably, he could only scuff his shot well wide.
“I’m not going to be critical of him,” said manager Paul Hartley. “He’s a young player and he’ll have plenty more chances like that. That’s the kind of thing that happens when it’s not going your way.
“I thought we matched Hearts, but the game is in the past now.”
Despite 30 minutes remaining at the time, Wighton’s miss proved to be the last clear-cut opportunity. Liam Smith had a header flash across goal, while Hearts almost scored a comedic second when Goncalves’ shot cannoned off substitute Malaury Martin and almost wrong-footed Bain.
Dundee would create one last half-chance in injury-time with an off-balance Paul McGowan volleying well over the bar after reacting quickest to a Haber knockdown. But other than that, the visitors were limited in their efforts to find an equaliser.
Unable to cut through the opposition at will, Hearts at least managed to maintain control of the game, even if the supporters become increasingly tetchy as time went on.
“A lot of that comes from the run we’ve been on and the feeling around the place,” added Cathro. “Any game in this league when you’re leading 1-0 going into the closing stages, you’re going to be defending.
“We just had to make sure we saw it [out] over the time.
“The fight was there. People have questioned it, but it was there.”