A tie was won but there was little love lost as Hearts ousted Aberdeen from the Scottish Cup on Saturday, winning in the tournament for the first time since they lifted the trophy in 2012.
The Tynecastle side dominated the play thanks to an electrifying start, huge belief and a high pressing style but there was no quarter given on the sidelines as the management teams exchanged some angry words throughout the match and players and coaches went tit for tat in their post-match barbs.
In a thoroughly engrossing encounter, which an impressive Hearts took by the scruff of the neck, starting with real drive, they successfully rattled a team who had defeated them in their two previous head to heads this term. Callum Paterson headed home the only goal of the game after just two minutes after Alim Ozturk had nodded on a Sam Nicholson corner, and while they tried and failed to add another, they rarely looked in danger of conceding to an Aberdeen team caught on the back foot until the later stages.
But it was the visitors’ determination to salvage something in the dying minutes that soured a contest which always seems to have a combustible edge.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes insisted he had instructed his men to retain possession after the ball had been booted out by their hosts following Ozturk’s slump to the turf. Believing it was an act of gamesmanship and claiming it is a tactic they had earned a reputation for, he said his men had no reason to feel guilty for taking advantage of the throw-in to try to engineer a last gasp scoring opportunity.
Hearts, as they had when Andrew Considine had squandered Aberdeen’s best chance of the game earlier in the second half, survived that attack, but when the final whistle sounded Arnaud Djoum made it clear what they thought of their tactics.
“I tried to speak to the Aberdeen manager and I told him they should have given it back,” said the midfielder. “He said something about our goalkeeper taking too much time. But I told him his team had to give the ball back. Both teams have to respect fair play.
“A lot of kids come here to see football and it is not good to see something like this. It sets a bad example. That’s why I was upset.
“It has never happened to me in a game before, that’s why I was so surprised and angry. Normally I am a calm character. But this frustrated me.
“You can hate each other but there is still fair play. It is a game. Even if it’s a derby game, whatever, when you put the ball in the stand I think they have to give you it back.” But, on a day when they accepted that they were open to criticism for a an under-par first-half performance that left them coming to terms with the reality of another season without silverware, Aberdeen refused to assume the role of villains, claiming Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson had shown little evidence of the fair play ethos in trying to get opposition players booked and highlighted what they believed were time-wasting tactics as the visitors chased the possibility of a replay.
“Some people choose to play football that way. They see that as the best way of doing it, trying to kill the game and preserve their one-goal lead,” said Dons defender Mark Reynolds. “That’s their way of doing it. It’s frustrating for us because we’re pushing on, trying to get the goal. But I don’t think [the decision not to give the ball back] had anything to do with their time wasting. The guy goes down with cramp. That’s not an injury, that’s just lack of fitness. We’re not going to give the ball back because he’s not fit enough to play the games. That’s our thoughts on it.
“Ultimately, we’re out of the cup and it just leaves us the league for the season. It’s very disappointing.
“There are ways of going out of the cup. There are ways you can kind of live with yourself a bit. But I thought that first-half performance was just unacceptable.”