Hearts 3-0 Aberdeen
John Sutton scores
Novikovas angled an expert finish low into the net and Sutton doubled the advantage to secure the hosts a 2-0 interval advantage. Sutton then converted from ten yards early in the second period to put the game beyond Aberdeen, who had ironically started the match in commanding fashion.
It was a deserved victory for Hearts who showed their clinical side in the final third, whereas the visitors did not capitalise on their opportunities. Sutton looked particularly impressive in what was his finest display to date in a maroon shirt.
Watched by Tottenham's development coach Clive Allen, Hearts were seeking to erase memories of last week's defeat at Motherwell. Aberdeen were egged on by a boisterous travelling support in the Roseburn Stand and it was they who first threatened. Kari Arnason, a summer trialist at Hearts, headed Robert Milsom's corner goalwards and was thwarted only when Marian Kello's fingertips diverted the ball against the crossbar.
Arnason's 21st-minute drive rolled wide of goal and at that juncture Aberdeen looked most likely to score first. Enter Novikovas. When Danny Grainger's left-sided cross skimmed the head of Youl Mawene, the Lithuanian winger collected the bouncing ball and promptly curled it low into the right corner of David Gonzalez's net. In doing so, he vindicated manager Paulo Sergio's decision to grant him a starting role ahead of Andy Driver.
Headers from Scott Vernon and Darren Mackie were off target as Aberdeen strove to restore parity. However, they soon found themselves facing a two-goal deficit as another winger made a telling contribution. Receiving the ball from Ryan Stevenson on the edge of the Aberdeen penalty area, David Templeton sprinted past Rory McArdle to roll a low cross in front of Sutton, who merely had to tap into an empty net from three yards.
Novikovas limped off with an ankle injury at the interval and did not reappear. Rudi Skacel took his place, whilst Aberdeen swapped Mackie for Peter Pawlett. That change did little to revitalise the visitors as Sutton scored his second and Hearts' third seven minutes into the second half.
Aberdeen failed to clear decisively from the edge of their own penalty area and Scott Robinson managed to prod the ball through for Sutton, whose calm flick eluded Gonzalez. That ended the game as a contest, although Fraser Fyvie ought to have at least tested Kello minutes later when Hearts allowed him a free shot inside their penalty area. Instead, he dragged the ball wide.
The final stages approached with Hearts looking relaxed but determined to protect their clean sheet. After Skacel's volley was held by Gonzalez, there was the welcome introduction of another Riccarton youth academy product as teenager Kevin McHattie made his first-team debut by replacing Ryan Stevenson.
He will remember this day for a long time, while Hearts will be eager to retain the feelgood factor for Thursday night.
Hearts (4-4-2): Kello; Hamill, Jonsson (McGowan 87), Zaliukas, Grainger; Novikovas (Skacel 46), Robinson, Mrowiec, Templeton; Sutton, Stevenson (McHattie 80). Subs: MacDonald, S Elliott, Driver, G Smith.
Aberdeen (4-4-2): Gonzalez; McArdle (Jack 61), Mawene, Considine, Foster; Fyvie, Arnason, Osbourne, Milsom; Vernon (Magennis 65), Mackie (Pawlett 46). Subs: Brown, Clark, Paton, Megginson.
Referee: Steve Conroy.