Dundee United v Hearts reaction: 22 players finish game shock; Handy Andy Halliday; Milestone for McDonald

Key issues and observations from a remarkable 2-2 draw at Tannadice which saw Hearts made five injury-enforced substitutions – three of them before half-time.

Hearts' Andy Halliday - played five different positions in the 2-2 draw against Dundee United (Photo by Steve  Welsh/Getty Images)
Hearts' Andy Halliday - played five different positions in the 2-2 draw against Dundee United (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)

Five subs good, three subs bad

It’s just as well the Premiership club voted to reintroduce five subs in January. It was not a moment too soon for Hearts, who suffered the kind of ill-fortune that comes around once every few decades – perhaps longer.

Fans were racking their brains to remember if they had ever seen anything like the first half at Tannadice, when Hearts were forced to make three injury enforced changes.

Another one was required at half time and then John Souttar made it five when he limped off shortly after conceding a penalty just before the hour mark. United were bloodied too – literally. Skipper Ryan Edwards was helped off with blood gushing from a wound his head after he was hit by Ellis Simms’ flying elbow.

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The big Hearts striker was booked but he could easily have seen a red card. Calum Butcher, meanwhile, was fortunate to be only yellow carded after leaving Alex Cochrane in a daze. The United midfielder had already left the same player in a heap with another shuddering challenge minutes earlier. When he was eventually booked, Willie Collum indicated it had been for persistent fouling. Another referee might have sent Butcher off for what looked like two bookable offences. While there was a lot of coming and going, somehow the game finished with 22 players.

Amid the chaos there was food for thought: is the five subs rule change – a currently temporary one extending to the end of the season – worth putting in place for good?

Versatile Halliday proves worth

In retrospect, Andy Halliday might have been better holding off agreeing to that new contract he signed last week. He would be in an even better bargaining position after this multi-tasking display v Dundee United.

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He didn’t even start the game and still ended up playing five different positions as Hearts relied on his versatility and experience amid the disruption of losing five players to injury.

Halliday started at right-back before moving to right wing-back, had a stint at left-back before moving forward to left wing-back and then ended the game in central midfield. He was only on the pitch for little more than half the game after coming on for the injured sub Alex Cochrane six minutes before half-time.

Halliday is not everyone’s cup of tea but he continues to prove his worth for the Tynecastle club and has earned his two-year extension. No wonder Robbie Neilson was so keen for him to extend his stay in Gorgie.

Kevin McDonald – another step in right direction

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Slowly but surely Kevin McDonald is returning to full fitness after his kidney transplant nine months ago. This was another significant afternoon for the 33-year-old in what was his fifth appearance for United after joining last month. It was, though, the first time that he has completed 90 minutes for them.

Indeed, it was his first full 90 minutes at senior level since playing all of Fulham’s 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers in February 2020. He is clearly getting back into his stride and linked the play well for United from a deep-lying midfield position.

The midfielder said it would take a while for him to last a full match so this was a notable achievement. It wasn’t any old game, either. It was one of the most bruising, physically-exacting Premiership encounters this season.

It was a feelgood story to complement the one in England where, on the same afternoon, Christian Eriksen made his first start for Brentford on his comeback after suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch in the summer for Denmark v Finland.

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