Hearts 0 - 0 Aberdeen: Joe Lewis denies Craig Levein win
In an entertaining encounter, the Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis produced a series of saves to deny Hearts victory. Aberdeen had enjoyed the best of the first half but the home team dominated after the interval in the first ever league football match played at the home of Scottish Rugby.
Lewis saved from Jamie Walker, Christophe Berra and Ross Callachan amongst others and was generally in inspired form throughout the afternoon. For Levein, it was an encouraging performance with which to start his reign after he agreed to return to management last week.
The unusual surroundings added a certain novelty value to this fixture and drew an astonishing 7,000 Aberdeen fans to Edinburgh. They were eager to see their team retake top stop in the Premiership after being leapfrogged by Celtic on Friday evening.
Hearts, in contrast, could only admire the stability of their opponents under the astute guidance of manager Derek McInnes. Levein is the third man to take charge in Gorgie this season following Ian Cathro and Jon Daly. He has signed a three-year contract with a brief to steady the ship.
He handed goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin and midfielder Callachan debuts, whilst on-loan Manuel Milinkovic started on the substitutes’ bench. Aberdeen fielded their on-loan defender Dominic Ball after his transfer deadline-day arrival from Rotherham United.
After Adam Rooney headed wide for the visitors, Ball’s tackle on Walker at the opposite end brought calls for a penalty from Hearts fans. Referee Craig Thomson allowed play to continue at a frenetic pace. Aberdeen enjoyed a strong and tenacious opening period without converting that supremacy into goals.
Hearts struggled to gain a foothold in midfield in the opening half an hour and were largely outplayed before eventually springing to life. Walker stung the palms of the opposition goalkeeper, Lewis, with a 30th-minute free-kick. Moments later, Esmael Goncalves’ driving run and shot was pushed for a corner by Lewis at full stretch. The resultant delivery saw the keeper again called upon to stop Arnaud Djoum’s header.
That roused supporters in maroon - until play spun to the opposite end and Aberdeen threatened again. Ryan Christie shot narrowly wide from Graeme Shinnie’s pass before Kenny McLean saw a similar effort deflected for a corner. Shinnie was playing in behind strikers Rooney and Stevie May in an attacking midfield role and enjoyed seeing plenty of the ball.
As half-time approached, Hearts broke forward only to be thwarted by Lewis again when he pushed Walker’s curling right-footed attempt over his crossbar. The Englishman’s inspiring form had, strangely, prevented the hosts being ahead at the end of a half where they had been second best for long spells.
Lewis continued defying Hearts after the restart as they began dominating play. First, he beat away Berra’s volley from an acute angle following a corner. Somehow, he followed that up with a close-range body stop to deny Callachan a debut goal. Seconds later, he was down to his left to push Walker’s low effort to safety.
Goncalves ambled forward to crash a dipping shot off the Aberdeen cross bar on 63 minutes, with those in maroon sensing their team had to find the net soon. Kyle Lafferty replaced the Portuguese striker to offer some freshness - and perhaps to try and help his team capitalise on what was becoming a plethora of scoring chances.
McInnes introduced Gary Mackay-Steven after his well-publicised recent escapade in Glasgow’s River Kelvin after a night out. Play continued mostly in Aberdeen’s half, however. Walker departed as Milinkovic made his first Hearts appearance. Lafferty then found himself unmarked at the back post as Callachan’s cross arrived. He decided to take a touch rather than shoot first time and was tackled swiftly by Logan as the goal gaped in front of him.
Both teams continued their efforts to the end but, in Levein’s first game since returning to the dugout, a strong second half display couldn’t quite yield the win he would have wanted.