Hearts 0 - 1 Dundee: Hearts pay the penalty as Dundee lifted from bottom

FOR the second week running, Hearts blew a chance to go top of the table. But, while they left Aberdeen thankful to have a point and aware they deserved no more, yesterday they knew that this was a victory which had gone abegging.

Scorers: Dundee - Conroy (3, pen)

Referee: C Thomson

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Attendance: 12,446

Unlike the fatigued performance at Pittodrie last week, John McGlynn’s team could not put the result down to a European hangover. They were energetic enough, had possession and scoring opportunities aplenty, yet still ended up on the losing side to a team who had not even scored in their previous league matches.

Dundee’s spirited and disciplined defence can take substantial credit for their first win of the season but Hearts will also have to look closely at why they lacked a cutting edge. It could be argued that, on another day, a lucky deflection would have given them the equaliser and, if that goal had come early enough, they would have gone on to win. But the counter-argument is that, on most other days in the SPL, they will be up against tougher opponents who will deny them so many chances at the back.

Having failed to score in their previous four SPL outings, Dundee wasted no time in getting off the mark in this game. A throw-in from the right took the ball into the box, and, when Colin Nish went down under a challenge by Marius Zaliukas, referee Craig Thomson did not hesitate to award a penalty, as well as booking the Hearts captain. Ryan Conroy scored low into the right corner of the net, with Jamie MacDonald coming close to making contact.

Hearts took the setback in their stride and proceeded to dominate the first half territorially with Dundee continuing to look threatening on the counter-attack. With quarter of an hour played, a slip by Andy Webster resulted in Nish being put through on MacDonald, but the former Hibs striker dragged his shot wide and, in any case, had mistimed his run and strayed offside.

Hearts’ first effort of note came a few minutes after that, as Callum Paterson unleashed a 25-yard drive which was tipped over for a corner by Rab Douglas. However, for all that they looked the better side, the home team were struggling to put coherent attacks together. But, after 25 minutes, they were given the perfect chance to get back on level terms when Ryan McGowan was tripped in possession and Thomson again pointed to the spot, booking Lewis Toshney for the offence.

Sutton took the penalty and positioned it well but Douglas pulled off a fine save low to his right.

Hearts continued to press, and Paterson was next to test Douglas after an impressive run down the right. A Sutton shot was then blocked and rebounded to Dale Carrick, whose low diagonal shot was kept out by Douglas at the expense of a corner.

In the last minute of the half, Paterson was just too high with a flying header from an Arvydas Novikovas cross. The number of chances created in those opening 45 minutes meant that McGlynn was not even tempted to push the panic button, but it was obvious that he needed a more mobile threat up front than the leaden-footed Sutton was able to pose, so it was no surprise when Ryan Stevenson came off the bench to replace the Englishman at the start of the second half.

The former Ipswich Town player, back for a second spell at Tynecastle less than eight months after leaving the club in acrimonious circumstances, added some drive and direction to his team’s play. And, while David Templeton will be missed, Stevenson showed greater consistency during his first stay at the club than the winger did, and plays in a position where there was a greater need for cover.

It will naturally take time for Stevenson to blend in with his team-mates but, as it was, he did more than any other Hearts player in that second half to get his team back on level terms. He had a shot on the run blocked by Douglas, and then, in the closest the home team came to equalising, had a header cleared off the line by Conroy.

But those attempts on goal, and others by Novikovas and the lively Paterson, were rare moments of brightness in an untidy and undistinguished second half. Midfielder Carrick was replaced by Andrew Driver for the closing 25 minutes but the winger looked off the pace. Jamie Walker, a substitute for Darren Barr for the final quarter of an hour, had little or no chance to make a difference.

Dundee continued to ride their luck, but, at the end, it was hard to begrudge them the win. It may have been good fortune which offered them such an early lead but, once they had gone in front, they stuck to their gameplan with commendable application and enthusiasm. A long fight against relegation still looms but, if they play with as much purpose and doggedness in the months to come, they could at least maintain their hopes of survival.

Hearts: MacDonald, R McGowan, A Webster, Zaliukas, Grainger; Paterson, Barr (Walker 76), Taouil, Carrick (Driver 65), Novikovas, Sutton (Stevenson 46). Subs not used: Hamilton, D McGowan, Holt, Robinson.

Dundee: Douglas, Toshney, McGregor, Grassi, Lockwood, J Baird, Irvine, Davidson, McAlister, Conroy, Nish (Milne 73). Subs not used: A Baird, G Webster, Gallagher, Boyle, Reid.