Floored Hearts' woes deepen in Aberdeen as Red Shed rubs salt into wounds
It might have been worth their while returning via Lourdes from last week's latest Europa League trip. Battered and bruised Hearts could do with some healing properties, spiritual or otherwise. What on earth is going on?
Manager Robbie Neilson cut a forlorn figure at the end after late goals from Luis Lopes and substitute Vicente Besuijen floored his patched-up team.
Most of those away fans who had stayed until the final whistle clapped the players. They recognised their efforts on another challenging day for those of a Hearts persuasion. Even before this latest setback Andrew McKinlay, the club’s chief executive, had been motivated to compose a message to the fans. He thanked them for travelling to Italy in such numbers and for being so well behaved.
“What hasn’t helped our cause has been injuries and suspensions,” he wrote. “However, we are confident that once these situations resolve themselves, we will once again get firing on all cylinders.” That might well happen. Just not yet. And maybe not anytime soon.
Whatever the context, results are now clearly becoming an issue. This was Hearts’ tenth defeat in 14 outings and the feeling they really did not deserve to leave Pittodrie with nothing cannot offer much comfort to Neilson, who is aware Celtic visit Tynecastle on Saturday.
The fan-owned club might have to turn to some supporters and ask them to bring their boots if they want to raise a team.
At least there’s five days to prepare without any midweek duties. That’s one benefit of having already been knocked out of the Premier Sports Cup, another blot on Neilson’s record during this arduous campaign to date.
“Hearts are falling apart, again!” chorused the home fans after Lopes' opener with 16 minutes left. Cheekily, the Pittodrie DJ played the original Joy Division record almost as soon as the full-time whistle sounded.
The fans in the Red Shed needed little excuse to burst into song again, lyrics re-worked to reference poor old Hearts. Neilson's side might be falling apart at present but there seems to be little anyone can do about it. A lot of their problems are down to rank rotten luck. This latest outing at Pittodrie is a case in point.
A couple of goals down and with Andy Halliday forced off after just 11 minutes, Hearts were presumably eager to restrict the damage to this before getting out of Dodge. Unbelievably, however, there was still time for another injury to befall the seemingly cursed Tynecastle side. It’s not as if they are succumbing to little niggles either. Peter Haring, who had only come on a few minutes earlier, received a heavy head knock in an aerial challenge.
Although he tried to resume, he fell to the turf again. It was worrying in the extreme. He was eventually stretchered off, with sporting applause coming from the home fans as well as the travelling supporters. Given concussion protocols, the midfielder is now certain to miss this weekend’s clash with Celtic.
Halliday, who had Jayden Richardson's studs raked down the back of his Achilles, will be assessed at the start of the week.
Despite the Halliday blow, the visitors re-organised well, with Lewis Neilson coming on in defence. They had the better chances in a first half that exploded into life just before the interval, when both sides came close to breaking the deadlock.
The low sun created problems for both keepers though they both eschewed caps. They certainly seemed to be seeing adequately enough. Well enough, certainly, to make game-defining saves in the closing moments of the opening 45 minutes.
Craig Gordon did what Gordon does after Tony Sibbick was careless with a pass out of defence. Bojan Miovoski played in Lopes, who was thwarted by the alert goalkeeper. There was still time for Hearts to snatch a lead prior to the interval – and it would have been one they arguably deserved. Shankland’s well-executed lob was tipped onto the roof of the net by Kelle Roos, who had advanced just far enough to get a decent contact with the ball. A yard or two further and the ‘keeper would have been stranded.
Shankland had already come close when he stabbed a shot wide after Alex Cochrane’s cutback. It was the latter player whose miss on the half hour mark really did define the half and perhaps even the game for Hearts. The wingback could not get good contact on the ball from eight yards after Shankland and Stephen Humphrys had combined to present the unmarked Cochrane with a straightforward opportunity to score from in front of goal. He allowed Roos to save on the goalline with a tame shot that was sent straight at the ‘keeper.
The game had barely got going again before Hearts passed up another chance to edge ahead. Anthony Stewart got into trouble under the close attention of the muscular Humphrys. But the Hearts striker could not take advantage of the situation. Roos read the situation well as the forward tried to go round him.
Aberdeen began to assert themselves, but they were still coughing up chances. Shankland side-footed wide when it looked easier to score just after the hour mark. Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin decided to up the ante by sending on Vicente Besuijen for Leighton Clarkson, who had been a peripheral presence. Four minutes later Aberdeen were ahead. Ylber Ramadani played in Lopes, who finished smartly at pace beyond Gordon.
The points were tied up when Besuijen deftly clipped the ball over the ‘keeper after Lopes had found the winger in space to his right. Only 11 minutes remained. Time enough, though, for more misfortune to befall Hearts.