For a while on Saturday it looked as though the Lanarkshire side would sprint away with a victory for the first time since 1977, but with a contested penalty turning the tide in Hearts’ favour the only thing reminiscent of the punk era was a prolonged bout of sneering between the players leading up to the final whistle.
Considering the near total dominance that Robbie Neilson’s men enjoyed in the first half and the concluding phase of the game, the fact that there should be any leeway at all for disputing their victory says a lot for what a curious affair this was.
Having failed to make all their early pressure count Hearts were in arrears soon after the interval thanks to a composed finish by Accies’ Ali Crawford. For a while there was a bit of a wobble and palpable anxiety before the outstanding Jamie Walker put them back on level terms.
The pivotal moment came in the 81st minute as substitute Sam Nicholson, another whose contribution for the home side was noteworthy, raced into the Hamilton box only to go down when challenged by Shaun Want. Referee Craig Thomson pointed to the spot and up stepped Walker again to put Hearts ahead. As the visitors chased the game in the closing stages holes appeared in their rearguard and Nicholson volleyed in a third to wrap up the points.
Considering how heated it became in the immediate aftermath of the penalty award, both Neilson and his Hamilton counterpart, Martin Canning, were studies in thoughtfulness as they reflected on it later, while still fundamentally disagreeing whether it was a decent call by the match officials. Neilson pointed to a shout for a penalty his side had in the first half when Tony Watt was felled as evidence that things had perhaps evened themselves out.
Accies’ Darian MacKinnon, as pugnacious off the pitch as he is on it, got stuck in in a more direct fashion. “I can’t say too much about it. I was talking to Sam after the decision and he’s said that Shaun’s not touched him. I don’t want to say he’s dived, I don’t want to say he’s cheating, he’s maybe been off balance or something,” said MacKinnon. “We’ll see what’s happened but I think we’ve been done by one.”
Apart from the small group of Hamilton fans in the away end, most in the ground would not have shared MacKinnon’s assertion that a draw would have been a fair result.
Hearts captain Don Cowie was among them. “I think we had enough chances in the first half to get the lead,” he suggested, “but the one thing we said at half-time was that you can’t win the game in the first half every week.
“We have to be patient at times and we’ve got a squad now that if we don’t get the goal we can change it because there’s so much quality. That’s what happened, Sam came on and made a huge impact.”
Reflecting on a pleasing run of form both personally and for his team-mates after a bumpy start to the campaign, Cowie added: “We’re a young team striving for consistency. We’ve managed to get three wins on the bounce, so let’s see if we can make it four next week. It’s another tough game at St Johnstone, where we’ve struggled recently and that’s one we want to put right.”