How Hearts showed their 19-point quality with star man despite David Silva-esque magic from Dundee United ace

Dundee United boss Tam Courts described Hearts as the “benchmark” for his side and those below them in the Premiership in the lead up to Sunday’s encounter. The 90 minutes at Tannadice only emphasised that it is a benchmark which looks like being very difficult to bridge.

Robbie Neilson was able to make four changes to the side which defeated Hibs at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup semi-final, respond to a slow start before exerting an authority and confidence to go a massive 19 points clear in third with a 3-2 victory. In turn, three points sees the club reach the 60-point mark in the top-flight for the first time since 2016 – when neither Hibs or Rangers were in the league – and only the third time since 2007.

Hearts were without John Souttar, Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley, Michael Smith and Beni Baningime through injury, with Ellis Simms and Cammy Devlin on the bench – arguably seven of their starters.

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It gave Neilson the chance to give game time to the squad and fringe players. No individual took that chance more than Josh Ginnelly.

The Englishman has seen his game time limited of late. It was just his first start since the 2-1 loss at St Johnstone in February, but working in tandem with Liam Boyce at the top of a 3-5-2, he used his pace and movement to torment the United defence. He saw an acrobatic volley cleared off the line by Charlie Mulgrew in the first half before netting the second to put Hearts in front, latching onto a long Alex Cochrane, showing composure to sidestep Benjamin Siegrist to roll the ball into the empty net.

Then, just as it looked like Dundee United were on the verge of earning an important point in their quest to finish fourth and claim a European spot, Ellis Simms stepped off the bench, replacing Ginnelly, to race onto another of those exquisite Barrie McKay through balls to lash past Siegrist in emphatic fashion.

This Hearts squad has the depth, the control, the versatility and quality. Four reasons they are so far in front of the rest.

United would have been looking at the Hearts line-up pre-match and thinking it could be their day to defeat the Jambos at the fourth time of asking this campaign. Three points would open up a four-point gap to Motherwell and Ross County. And it looked like it could go that way early on when Dylan Levitt put his side in front with a quite delicious goal.

Josh Ginnelly impressed in win over Dundee United. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

Craig Gordon had denied Nicky Clark before the on loan Manchester United midfielder picked up the ball in the Hearts box. He channelled Manchester City legend David Silva to nutmeg Peter Haring before skipping past Cochrane with a shimmy of the hips and calmly sliding a shot past the Hearts goalkeeper.

But then Hearts put their foot on the ball and dominated, ending the half with 61 per cent of possession and on level terms thanks to a Liam Boyce strike from a Nathaniel Atkinson cross.

Ryan Edwards thought he earned United at least a point with a thunderous effort in the 65th minute. But Hearts’ quality shone through as they showed why they are 19 points clear in third.

Dundee United: Siegrist; Edwards, Mulgrew, Graham; Niskanen (Freeman 58’), Levitt, Mochrie (Meekison 71’), Smith, McMann (Sporle 87’; Watt, Clark (McNulty 71’).

Hearts: Gordon; Moore, Sibbick, Cochrane; Atkinson, McEneff (Woodburn 15’), Haring, McKay, Mackay-Steven; Boyce, Ginnelly (Simms 72).

Att: 6,421

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