Craig Halkett captains Hearts in first outing of the season as Sheffield United earn win

Strong Blades side secure victory at Riccarton

Hearts played Sheffield United at the Oriam complex today.
Hearts played Sheffield United at the Oriam complex today.

Hearts’ first pre-season outing ended in defeat against the English Premier League side Sheffield United, with the Scotland international midfielder John Fleck scoring the only goal.

Today’s bounce match at Riccarton’s Oriam complex saw United take an early lead which they successfully held thanks to an experienced line-up.

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It was Hearts’ first game since March as they prepare for the Scottish Championship and Betfred Cup beginning in October.

They kicked off in a 3-4-3 formation, with Craig Halkett wearing the captain’s armband and teenager Aaron Hickey in the starting line-up despite a recent £1.3m bid from Bologna.

Zdenek Zlamal took his place in goal, with Loic Damour, Olly Lee, Jamie Walker and recent signing Jordan Roberts also in the team.

Another new arrival, Elliott Frear, was among the substitutes, whilst club captain Steven Naismith and new goalkeeper Craig Gordon were not involved along with Christophe Berra.

United listed Aaron Ramsdale, Chris Basham, John Egan, Oliver Norwood and Billy Sharp on their teamsheet for the final match of their Scottish tour.

Fleck opened the scoring after just seven minutes as the visitors made a strong start to the game. They could have increased their lead thereafter but Hearts improved as the first half wore on.

They reached the break confident of levelling the scores in the second 45 minutes as manager Robbie Neilson changed his entire starting XI. Recent loan arrival Ross Stewart took over from Zlamal.

A number of second-half substitutions interrupted the flow of play but the United striker Sharp did put the ball in the net again, only to be thwarted by an offside flag.

The visitors saw the game out to end their pre-season tour of Scotland on a winning note after a midweek match against Dundee United was abandoned due to rain.

Afterwards, Neilson told the Hearts website he was pleased with the exercise. “It was excellent. I was delighted. It’s been five months since the players played 11 v 11 and they’ve only trained for a couple of weeks so it’s been great workout,” he said.

“It was the Sheffield United full team for the first 60 minutes and then they made quite a few subs. With the squad they’ve got there it was a good workout.

“Everyone’s got through it, it was a good 45 minutes each for them all and we got a few of the younger boys on as well. It was good for them. They found out yesterday they were going to be involved so I’m sure they had a sleepless night last night.”

Neilson explained that Naismith, Gordon and Berra were all absent with minor issues. “Christophe has just got a wee niggle on his calf and Steven is the same,” he said. “We expect both of them to be training next week.

“Craig has been feeling ill for the last couple of days so we just decided to leave him out. Again, he’ll train with us on Monday.”

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Hearts first half: Zlamal, M Smith, White, Halkett, Damour, Hickey, Walker, Lee, Moore, Boyce, Roberts.

Hearts second half: Stewart, Wighton, Garuccio, Brandon, Irving, Henderson, Hamilton, Frear, McGill, C Smith, Denholm.

Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Basham, Egan, J. Robinson, Baldock, Berge, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Sharp, C Robinson. Subs: Foderingham, Gordon, Rodwell, Slater, Jagielka, Brunt, Mousset, Osborn, Bryan, Norrington Davies, Hackford.

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