Defeat at Tynecastle doesn’t need to derail Aberdeen’s ambitions but, at a crucial stage of the season, the Pittodrie side do need to turn the negative into a positive pretty quickly as they attempt to bounce back in time to reach their targets.
A week before heading to Hampden for the Scottish Cup semi-final, Derek McInnes’ men let themselves down with a lacklustre display in the capital. It allowed Rangers to leapfrog them into second place in the Premiership and Hibernian to close in on them.
With five games remaining in the league campaign, they know that situation can be retrieved, insisting their fate is still in their own hands, and the same can still be said of the quest for silverware. But they will need to regroup and get their act together quickly.
“You don’t want to go into big games having lost but that’s been a warning to us,” said goalkeeper Joe Lewis, pictured, who was beaten twice as Hearts bossed proceedings at Tynecastle. “It’s not like us to give two poor performances back to back so hopefully we can put this behind us and really get on the front foot for Motherwell.
“We need to try to be upbeat. That wasn’t the ideal preparation for the semi-final, but hopefully it is a kick up the backside and we can look back on it as being good timing to make sure we don’t put in this kind of performance again.”
There was little to be buoyant about as they struggled to find their top form against a Hearts side who sit well adrift of them in the league standings and had enjoyed just one win in their previous seven games.
Craig Levein’s men were a sharper, keener and more cohesive unit as they gave their guests little time to settle. Dictating tactics and tempo, they took the game to Aberdeen and foiled all but a couple of forward forays. On those occasions, Aberdeen still couldn’t capitalise as both Andrew Considine and Adam Rooney rattled their efforts off the woodwork.
Aberdeen will be without the suspended trio of Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Shay Logan for the key cup encounter but, on Saturday’s evidence, that may not be a big a blow as many surmised. The former two failed to compete with their hosts in the middle of the park, where Hearts’ greater teamwork, industry and vision gave them the advantage.
It is an area where Aberdeen will need to improve if they are to progress to their second successive Scottish Cup final.
Steven Naismith broke the deadlock in the 18th minute, linking up well with those around him. He got on the end of a move that involved Marcus Godinho and David Milinkovic and, with a neat dummy, he beat Anthony O’Connor and sent a shot past Lewis from inside the area.
It was poor defending from the visitors and there was more of that to come when Aberdeen allowed Hearts to double their lead just two minutes later.
This time Hearts’ Kyle Lafferty pounced on a slack Scott McKenna pass. And although his shot was blocked, Milinkovic finished with a low strike that beat the goalkeeper and a lunging defender on the line.
In resolute mood at the back – racking up their 19th clean sheet of the season – and against an Aberdeen side that did not look up for the challenge, that was to prove more than enough for Hearts, who will now head into the post-split fixtures in more positive mood.
“It was one of the most pleasing results and performances of our season,” said Hearts midfielder Don Cowie. “Aberdeen are the team that everyone aspires to be. The consistency they have shown in the last few years is what we want to get to.
“But we know we’ve not done it enough since I’ve been at the club.
“We’ve shown at home that we are a match for anyone. It’s on the road that we need to turn draws into victories. That’s the difference between finishing sixth and in the top four. We need to work on that.”