It was on 15 October against Dunfermline Athletic that Hearts last won a match and scored a goal, since when the club’s troubles in coughing up the spondulicks have been well documented. But even with Hearts up for sale, the players went about their business in an entirely professional manner in a game that eventually became quite marvellous.
A splendid strike from Rudi Skacel and two goals largely due to poor defence plus a glaring miss from Gregory Tade that was also a magnificent save by Marian Kello are the main stories of the 90 minutes.
Inverness manager Terry Butcher conceded that Hearts deserved the win for their second-half performance but shook his head in bewilderment at his own side’s Jekyll and Hyde play – slick one minute, baleful the next. “It’s driving me mad,” said Butcher. “We do well going forward but don’t score, we do well at the back but in a split second throw it all away. That’s been the story of our season. It’s weird.”
Inverness were unchanged thanks to the successful appeal against Greg Tansey’s sending off against Celtic, while Hearts manager Paulo Sergio started David Obua instead of Adrian Mrowiec.
With a blustery wind whirling around Tynecastle, it was no place for the faint-hearted and a physical battle ensued that was not pretty but certainly contained entertainment. Ross Tokeley even dislocated a finger and played on – it was that kind of day. To be fair, both sides tried to play skilful football, but robust and largely accurate tackling was the order of the day, certainly in a first half devoid of quality.
The first booking came after just three minutes, when Eggert Jonsson tripped Andrew Shinnie. The latter player’s 25-yard effort went just past before Inverness blew a glorious chance to score after 20 minutes. Marius Zaliukas sclaffed his clearance straight to Jonny Hayes who put Tade clean through. The striker had only Kello to beat, but the goalkeeper came out fast and saved at Tade’s feet.
On the half-hour mark, the match combusted with a strange incident. Josh Meekings challenged David Templeton and the Hearts player went down injured, the ball being put out of play. Inverness paused, expecting the ball back, but Ryan Stevenson played on, putting Templeton through only for Esson to save his tame effort. Players confronted each other across the pitch and the atmosphere was transformed.
Stevenson was replaced by Mrowiec at half-time and the second half burst into life, Hearts going ahead within 30 seconds of the restart. John Sutton sent a delicious flick to Skacel who scampered into the right-hand side of the box and flashed a low left-foot shot across Esson into the far corner.
Just over 12 minutes later, the visitors drew level with a goal which will give the Hearts coaching staff nightmares when they see the replay. Hayes curled in a free kick to the main danger area in the centre of the box where Tokely was all alone to head home past a stranded Kello.
We now had a wee cracker of a match with open end-to-end play that you could not take your eyes off. Inverness could have gone ahead when Shinnie’s shot was saved by Kello and Hayes blasted the follow-up just over.
The winner came after Sutton won a corner with a sudden turn and shot. Templeton and Jamie Hammill worked a short corner, before the former fired in a cross which Jonsson headed home from point-blank range – “a bad joke to lose” said Butcher.
In a clear bid to preserve the three points, Hearts dropped deeper and Mehdi Taouil came on for the impressive Sutton, who was warmly applauded off the field by the home fans.
Had Templeton’s late snap-shot from distance hit the net proper rather than the side netting, it would have been a perfect end for the men in maroon. As it was the Hearts players settled for 2-1 and points in the bank. They must hope their wages follow shortly.