Robbie Neilson looked on from the stand as he began a two-match suspension. The manager might be permitted some slender credit – assistant Lee McCulloch was in constant radio contact with him – for the change which saw goalscorer Jamie Walker replace Andy Halliday on the hour mark. Armand Gnanduillet, whose cross provided Walker with the opportunity to score his 50th goal for the club, was another substitute brought on early in the second half as Neilson reacted to seeing his side fall a goal behind seven minutes after the interval.
Craig McGuffie rifled a fine left-foot strike into the bottom corner of Craig Gordon’s net after a brisk counter attack from the visitors, who were playing a league match at Tynecastle for the first time since 1988.
McGuffie stirred memories of better times and better players for the ‘Ton with a scintillating finish after being fed by Cameron Salkeld. Afterwards their manager, Anton McElhone, was looking up rather than down as he identified a play-off place – a promotion one, that is – as being his side’s aim. Rightly so, they are just three points behind fourth-placed Queen of the South.
Further dropped points might not have caused any significant damage in terms of Hearts’ own aspirations. However, it will do little to quell fans’ increasing dismay at the manner in which their side are tackling an assignment that was supposed to be straightforward.
Of course, the title and automatic promotion remains the objective. But this was, once again, deeply unimpressive from Hearts, who have dropped ten points since the turn of the year. After a bright start yielded nothing in the way of goals confidence seemed to drain away. Morton hit the bar, had a header cleared off the line and also saw a near-post effort from Salkeld deflected just wide. This was all in the first half.
These details convey the impression the visitors were very much still in it at half-time. And they were. But they should not have been. Hearts were rampant for the first 30 minutes and hit the bar themselves when Liam Boyce’s enterprising back-heel dropped onto the woodwork.
In total, the hosts had 26 efforts on goal. While this might sound impressive – and Nielson later pointed out this statistic to stress his side’s general dominance – too few were on target. In fact, there were miss-of-the season contenders from Mihai Popescu in the first half and Gary Mackay-Steven in the second. Both attempts were sent high over from close in.
Mackay-Steven looks very out of sorts as he seeks to find his feet back in Scotland and even tried switching flanks in the first half to no avail. Fellow wide player Gervane Kastaneer did not have much more luck and was replaced by Gnanduillet ten minutes into the second half.
Aidan McAdams had little chance with a powerful header from a player not associated with this skillset after 71 minutes. It seemed appropriate that it was something special from Walker as he made it an impressive half century of goals in two spells for the club he grew up supporting.