Recent signing David Vanecek found himself substituted after 34 minutes on an evening when the hosts underperformed. John Souttar made his first appearance since undergoing hip surgery in October, but that was one of few positives for the Gorgie locals.
Hope had been high that their team could build momentum following three victories accompanied by clean sheets against Hamilton, Hibs and Livingston. Dundee had no cause to comply with such a plan as they battle to avoid relegation to the Championship.
They had managed just two league wins all season prior to this trip to the Capital. Both of those came against Hamilton – one at home and one away – leaving them as firm underdogs at kick-off.
Without the suspended Steven Naismith, Hearts granted teenage striker Aidan Keena his first start for the club. They cut short his season-long loan at Dunfermline earlier this month believing he could step up from Championship to Premiership.
The Irishman was understandably eager to establish himself in manager Craig Levein’s thoughts having been loaned to both Queen’s Park and Dunfermline since joining Hearts in summer 2017. Demetri Mitchell also returned at left-back in place of Ben Garuccio.
Dundee left veteran striker Kenny Miller on their substitutes’ bench somewhat surprisingly. The Premiership’s bottom side desperately needed points in their quest to avoid relegation, but Tynecastle is generally one of Scotland’s most unforgiving away venues. That didn’t stop the visitors asserting themselves from kick-off.
An early run and shot by Nelson was angling for the bottom corner of Colin Doyle’s net until the Hearts goalkeeper’s fingertip pushed it wide. Dundee were denied a corner, however, for referee John Beaton failed to spot the touch and awarded a goal kick. Doyle then held Andy Dales’ dipping effort as Levein bawled at his players to press the opposition higher up the field.
Keena’s movement and link-up play caught the eye. He had Hearts’ first attempt at goal on 15 minutes, the Dundee goalkeeper Seny Dieng holding his right-footed shot from 25 yards. Then came a stunning save from the on-loan Queens Park Rangers keeper. He dived full length to his right to beat away Arnaud Djoum’s strike from Vanacek’s clever lay-off. With Hearts enjoying some concerted pressure, Dieng then got down to collect Mitchell’s deflected shot.
Dundee’s next attack on 24 minutes brought them the opening goal. Kusunga won the ball from Vanecek and charged forward to play a one-two with Nelson. Once inside the Hearts penalty area, the hulking centre-back blasted a powerful finish which Doyle got a hand to but couldn’t stop. The small pocket of 247 travelling fans erupted deliriously.
Levein would not have been pleased and Vanecek was replaced by Steven MacLean just after the half-hour mark. The Czech didn’t appear to be injured, although he had already been booked for a foul on Ryan Inniss and was therefore just one misdemeanour away from a red card. Dundee threatened again near the break when Craig Curran headed namesake Jesse’s cross goalwards, although Doyle was up to the task.
Hearts were grateful for their equaliser five minutes before the interval. Following a foul by Kerr on Mitchell out on the flank, Lee’s free-kick careered off Jesse Curran and looped into the far corner of the net. It might have been fortuitous but it was met by cheers of relief nonetheless.
There was no question the hosts required improvement in the second period. Callumn Morrison and Christophe Berra both tested Dieng before Souttar replaced Morrison. Hearts changed formation to a back three in the hope of creating more chances. From Lee’s pass, Keena fired an impulsive shot over the Dundee crossbar.
Then came another sucker-punch when those from Tayside regained the lead. Conor Shaughnessy slipped as Craig Curran advanced, allowing the forward to slide a pass across to Nelson. The 21-year-old, recently signed from Sunderland, dispatched an unequivocal low finish to leave Doyle rooted to the spot. That guaranteed rising tension for the remainder of this encounter.
Hearts began camping in their guests’ territory in the hope of restoring parity again. Winger Jake Mulraney offered pace and skill as a substitute down the left. He delivered several crosses to no avail in the final period. Keena had an opportunity from the edge of the box which bounced wide, but a second equaliser was not to be.
Hearts (4-4-2): Doyle; M Smith, Shaughnessy, Berra, Mitchell (Mulraney 72); Morrison (Souttar 56), Lee, Djoum, Clare; Vanecek (MacLean 32), Keena. Unused subs: Zlamal, Bozanic, Cochrane, Godinho.
Dundee (4-4-2): Dieng; Kerr, Kusunga, Inniss, Ralph; J Curran, Woods, McGowan, Dales (Miller 78); Nelson (Moore 63) C Curran (Kallman 84), Unused subs: Parish, Deacon, Jefferies, Lambert.
Referee: J Beaton.