Scorers: Hearts – Walker (35) Dauda (53)
The three points Robbie Neilson’s side gained here, which takes them onto the 50 mark, means Aberdeen have every reason to be conscious of a maroon presence over their shoulder.
Walker’s fine goal after 36 minutes paved the way for victory against an Inverness team who caused some concern due to their late arrival at Tynecastle, after traffic problems. The night did not get any better for them after Abiola Dauda sealed the points shortly after half-time, following Greg Tansey’s criminally short backpass.
Neilson was in the comfortable position of being able to withdraw both goalscorers in the second half ahead of this weekend’s clash with Partick Thistle, when Hearts seek to complete a trilogy of home wins.
This result helps alter the dynamic of recent games between the teams, with Inverness firmly on top before last night after 10 meetings with Hearts without defeat. If the law of averages tempted gamblers to conclude Hearts were due a win in this particular fixture, plenty of effort from the home team had to be invested too.
At least that was the case until Inverness gifted Hearts their second goal after 53 minutes, leaving the 245 visiting supporters with most of the second half to contemplate their long trek home.
Only Tansey will know what was going through mind when he decided to attempt a backpass to his goalkeeper from fully 40 yards, one which the midfielder left crucially short. A lurking Dauda seized on the chance before sidestepping Owain Fon-Williams and tapping his third Hearts goal, and first at Tynecastle, into the empty net. A game that had started in very underwhelming fashion seemed already over.
Indeed, the shouts from the players echoing around the stadium early on suggested a match of meagre importance. But the low-key atmosphere belied what was at stake. Hearts knew another three points following Saturday’s home win over Kilmarnock could reduce the gap between them and Aberdeen to a very closeable six points.
As for Inverness, a win would have seen them replace Dundee in the top six – until tonight at least. But despite such motivation on either side the game took more than a while to warm up. Perhaps this was a consequence of Inverness’ late arrival due to traffic hold-ups. They seemed especially keen to play themselves into the game given these unsettling pre-match circumstances and ensured they kept things tight at the back in the opening stages.
Until Walker’s opener, Hearts were allowed only glimpses of goal. A full-blooded Dauda shot was brilliantly blocked by Daniel Devine, whose efforts prevented a certain goal. Inverness’ response was a header straight at Neil Alexander from Jordan Roberts.
Prince Buaben then dribbled a shot past the post before Tynecastle livened up to greet teenager Liam Smith’s left foot shot that just cleared the bar. However, little anticipated the quality of Walker’s well-taken opener, with the in-form winger continuing his impressive return after injury.
He was aided in scoring last night’s goal by a cross-field ball from Arnaud Djoum that picked him out, but Walker was still left with plenty to do. He chested the pass down, rode a couple of admittedly half-hearted challenges before touching the ball wide of Fon-Williams, the advancing Inverness goalkeeper.
Walker then applied the finishing touch into the net. The goal was actually reminiscent of the kind that were once trademarked by former Hearts winger John Colquhoun, introduced to the fans at half-time last night in his role as ambassador for Hearts Youth Development Committee.
Dauda nearly doubled Hearts’ lead at the start of the second-half but his fierce angled shot was blocked by Fon-Williams at his near post. He could only have dreamed about the ease with which the next chance fell into his path. Tansey’s mind seemed to be elsewhere as he sought to find his goalkeeper with a pass from out on the left that was seized upon by Dauda.