Dundee Utd 2 Hearts 2: Bruising point comes at a cost for Robbie Neilson

Hearts overcame a number of setbacks to earn a draw on a bruising afternoon at Tannadice. Robbie Neilson's side will view it as a point won rather than two dropped even though they had taken a first-minute lead through Liam Boyce.

Hearts' Craig Halkett scores to make it 2-2 at Tannadice.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Hearts' Craig Halkett scores to make it 2-2 at Tannadice. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

They can cope with dropped points in any case – particularly in this instance. With Livingston due to host Celtic on Sunday, Hearts actually strengthened their position by a point.

This battling performance against Dundee United demonstrated why they are sitting third in the league with no real challengers. They are hard to beat even when forced into making five substitutions due to injury.

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Andy Halliday, one of the replacements, had played in five different positions by the end as Neilson put the coaching manual to one side and made running repairs to his side. Three were required in the opening 45 minutes and another at half-time. He later said he hadn't seen anything like it "in 25 years in football" but was more than satisfied with the outcome.

Hearts' utility man Andy Halliday and Dundee United's Ross Graham jostle for possession. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Craig Halkett levelled the scoreline with a well-placed header from Barrie McKay’s corner with nine minutes left.

It’s the welfare of six players, John Souttar among them, which was giving Neilson most cause for concern prior to next weekend’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against St Mirren.

Souttar rolled an ankle shortly after conceding the penalty from which United took the lead after 57 minutes. Nicky Clark picked himself up and tucked the award into Craig Gordon’s left-hand corner. It gave the hosts some hope of taking all three points after Liam Smith’s stunning equaliser seconds into the second half of a game that, good goals aside, should have carried a government health warning.

Dundee United assistant manager Liam Fox later called it a “great advert for Scottish football”. More like American football given the number of stoppages.

Dundee United's Nicky Clark celebrates after making it 2-1 from the penalty spot. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Hearts’ afternoon threatened to completely unravel almost as soon as Boyce put the visitors ahead inside 60 seconds. Gary Mackay-Steven, who provided the assist for Boyce’s opener, was the first to limp off, quickly followed by Cammy Devlin and then Alex Cochrane, who had replaced Mackay-Steven.

United were also left bloodied – literally. Skipper Ryan Edwards had to depart a couple of minutes before half-time after he was caught by one of Ellis Simms’ elbows. The Hearts striker was booked for his troubles.

Woe to the latecomers and those slow to make it back to their seats after half-time. Missed goals were their penance. Fabulous ones too. Boyce’s left footed shot on the turn went in off Benji Siegrist’s upright to the delight of the travelling supporters, many of them housed at that end of the ground.

Smith's response just ten seconds into the second half was even better. The former Hearts defender has been recast as a creative midfielder and beat Scotland goalkeeper Gordon from 25 yards.

It is just a pity that the rest of the game did not live up to these launch pads at the start of each half through the number of injury interruptions.

Remarkably, having lost three players before half-time, Hearts sent Josh Ginnelly on at the interval, for Nathaniel Atkinson. The winger had not touched the ball by the time United equalised. No Hearts player had.

Ginnelly limped off at the end, rather summing things up.

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