Jeers to cheers as Hearts earn draw in thrilling comeback

The peculiar relationship between Robbie Neilson and the Hearts support showed no sign of coming to a resolve after a thoroughly entertaining, though mildly frustrating, 3-3 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum celebrates his late equaliser against Inverness. Picture: Paul Devlin: SNS

With the visitors trailing 2-0, thanks to goals from David Raven and Lonsana Doumbouya, the Hearts boss went to retrieve a ball that had gone out of play. When he did so, there followed a smattering of boos from the away end. This was after 50 or so fans had already headed for the exits after only 32 minutes of football, despite making a 300-mile round trip.

Hearts would eventually fight back against an opponent full of confidence - a team that defeated Motherwell 3-0 away from home in midweek - ending the day in third place, behind only the spending power of the Old Firm in the Ladbrokes Premiership table. However, it’s unlikely either of those facts will dissuade the portion of the Hearts support who, for whatever reason, plain don’t want Neilson in charge of the first-team any more.

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On the park, there’s little doubt the Hearts players still have confidence and want to play for their manager. Undoubtedly, there’s something not right about the current side. Along with Saturday’s opponents, they’re joint-second in the goals scored table, but have a group of strikers that struggle to find the back of the net. They have a highly talented defence, but have kept only three clean sheets in the league this season. At times in the first half against Inverness CT they appeared void of ideas going forward; a team whose purpose seemed built solely on possession. In the second period, particularly in the closing exchanges, they looked a threat every time they entered the final third.

Inverness Caley Thistle manager Richie Foran shouts instructions during the 3-3 draw with Hearts. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

They did need a bit of good fortune to remain in the game as it drew to a close. Josh Meekings slipped in the build-up to the first goal, allowing Don Cowie the task of executing an entirely simple through ball for Bjorn Johnsen, who kept his composure to finish from 10 yards. Then there was the second goal, via the boot of Faycal Rherras.

The left-back, cutting in on his stronger right foot, curled a cross to the far post. The presence of Johnsen froze young goalkeeper Cameron Mackay - who only played due to an injury sustained by Owain Fon Williams in the warm-up - allowing the ball to bounce in at the far post. Then again, you make your own luck in this world, and the Hearts full-back insisted this move was a part of his repertoire, one he has pulled out on more than one occasion to bamboozle opposing goalkeepers.

“Yes, it was a cross - and a shot. Last year, I scored two similar goals to this,” revealed Rherras. “The cross is difficult for the goalkeeper because he doesn’t know whether to come out or if to stay. I knew I’d scored because Bjorn Johnsen came running to me and said “you scored, you scored!’. It was a good result, yes and no. It’s good that we never gave up. 1-0 down, 2-0 down, we keep going. We showed good heart.”

They had to battle back again only three minutes after the leveller. Aaron Doran did amazing well to ease Cowie off the ball before passing beyond Jack Hamilton after chasing a speculative ball in behind. Hearts threw bodies forward, found their equaliser through Arnaud Djoum and almost won it in the end. Cowie and Djoum each had chances, though Inverness exerted their own amount of pressure in a frenzied finish.

Inverness Caley Thistle manager Richie Foran shouts instructions during the 3-3 draw with Hearts. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

“The way the game panned out, we’re disappointed we didn’t get three points,” said skipper Gary Warren. “We scored some fantastic goals and coming away with a 3-3 draw, it’s hard to take. A couple of mistakes on our behalf have probably cost us in the end.

“We showed we can play some entertaining football. On Wednesday night we passed Motherwell off the park, and today, at times, we passed Hearts off the park. We’re coming into a good bit of form. It’s a consistent run we’ve been on with consistent performances.

“It’s a good game for the paying audience, but for us it’s all about results. You get paid to get results. I’d rather won the game 1-0 with a sloppy, hard performance.”