Hearts 1-0 Dunfermline: Pivotal wins over Fife teams mean so much in title charge - Barry Anderson's verdict
Inspired by substitute Jamie Walker’s late but brilliant winning goal against Dunfermline at Tynecastle Park yesterday, they moved 12 points clear in pursuit of the Championship title and automatic promotion.
The victory followed Tuesday night’s 4-0 result at another of their rivals, Raith Rovers. That’s two wins in four days which will be viewed as pivotal to Hearts’ success should they finish the season as league winners.
Whilst Tuesday was free-flowing and pleasing on the eye, yesterday was definitely more of a grind. The expertise of goalkeeper Craig Gordon was a significant factor in the final result as he denied Dunfermline on several occasions.
However, increasing their points advantage at the top of the table to 12 amounted to an important achievement for Hearts. Likewise a second consecutive clean sheet as they gather pace en route towards a finish line which will take them back to the Premiership.
There was always likely to be an extra edge about this affair given Dunfermline ended Hearts’ eight-game unbeaten run when the teams last met back in November.
The star of that show, Kyle Turner, was a surprise omission from the Fife club’s midfield this time round. They came to Tynecastle with the same energy-based gameplan and saw Iain Wilson’s early drive cleared off the goal line by Hearts full-back Michael Smith.
Both goalkeepers, Gordon and Owain Fon Williams, made crucial saves at important junctures in the first half. Mihai Popescu’s header from a corner was stopped by Fon Williams, who also held an attempt from distance by Stephen Kingsley.
In the closing minutes of the first half, Hearts could only thank Gordon for preserving a blank scoreline. Fraser Murray’s perfect left-footed cross found Ryan Dow at the back post for a netbound header which the goalkeeper somehow tipped over his crossbar.
The second half began in much the same fashion with neither team able to force a breakthrough. Euan Henderson dispatched a powerful shot which Fon Williams caught shortly after the interval. Then Gordon stopped Declan McManus’ first-time effort from Lewis Mayo’s headed knockdown.
After an hour this game had still to properly ignite. Gnanduillet and Aidy White were introuced in a double substitution by Hearts, and within moments the Frenchman was heading Andy Irving’s free-kick goalwards – denied only by Fon Williams’ excellent save.
Gnanduillet then shot wide from Liam Boyce’s cutback. The clock continued to tick and the tension increased, even inside an empty Tynecastle. Craig Halkett met another Irving set-piece but his header landed on top of Dunfermline’s net.
Eventually, Walker found a route through the defiant visitors after replacing Steven Naismith. With a clever drag of the ball on 81 minutes, he took Michael Smith’s pass and turned away from marker Euan Murray to fire a classy finish low into the far corner.
It was tough on Dunfermline and Fon Williams in particular, but Hearts are motoring on after a memorable week’s football against Fife teams.
Hearts (4-3-3): Gordon; M Smith, Popescu, Halkett, Kingsley; Naismith (Walker 74), Irving, Halliday; Henderson (Gnanduillet 60), Boyce, Mackay-Steven (White 60).
Dunfermline (4-2-3-1): Fon Williams; Comrie, Watson, E Murray, Edwards; Whittaker (McCann 84), Mayo; Dow, Wilson, F Murray (Banks 68); McManus (O’Hara 72).