Hearts - 5
Cowie 7, 47, Sammon 18, Nicholson 78, 79
Inverness - 1
Forget the traditional pie and bovril, there was a fair bit of humble pie being consumed at Tynecastle on Saturday as fans were forced to reconsider the merits of certain players and their predictions for the rest of the league campaign.
It has been a tough start to the season for Hearts. An early exit from Europe, defeat in the League Cup and a fixture list that threw up games against the only two teams to finish above them last term.
The solitary point gleaned from those encounters had left them sitting at the wrong end of the table but while there was outrage among the keyboard warriors, there was also negativity in the stands, with the likes of Conor Sammon judged harshly in the opening games.
On Saturday the hard-working striker left the pitch to a standing ovation and he wasn’t the only one. Don Cowie was the stand-out performer against his hometown team, linking well with Sammon and Tony Watt and rounding off some slick, clinical moves at the start of both halves to ignite matters and then help push the game well out of Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s sight.
He was also a massive driving force, commanding the centre of the park, along with Perry Kitchen, and demanding high standards from his team-mates as the stand-in captain.
“There is real quality in that trio,” said manager Robbie Neilson. “Also guys like [Arnaud] Djoum and Kitchen, they are all international players. Having that quality together gives us real strength. The two goals Don scored were really simple goals, but they were executed with real quality. The first one, it is a great ball in from Souttar, Don dummies it and the lay-off is on a plate for him. The second one he scored was almost identical and it is that quality they bring.
“Don is one of the leaders of that group, not only on the pitch but in training as well.”
The first goal came in the seventh minute, Sammon playing him in, and Cowie repaid the favour ten minutes later, linking up with Watt in the corner before crossing for the Irishman to head home. Cowie, pictured, added the third, another unstoppable strike, a minute after the break.
For some who have questioned his worth, it was an emphatic reply. Football is rife with opinions, and some supporters will need more convincing, while others will steadfastly refuse to alter theirs, especially when it comes to a manager a section of the support is convinced is no more than a frontman while others pull the strings.
Neilson has refuted that but aware that it remains an issue, with some ex-pros weighing in on the subject recently. Facing the media after his men had romped to a 5-1 victory, he said: “When the fax machine went this morning and the team came through, I was delighted when I saw it!” with tongue firmly in cheek.
But while there was no need to get too downbeat after the difficult start to the campaign, the fact they were up against a team who have yet to register a point and look set to struggle unless they recruit quickly, should prove cautionary.
Manager Richie Foran said that his men had mustered more chances in this one than in their previous matches put together. Given how rarely they threatened, that shows how troubled they are and why he is intent on signing at least another couple of players this week.
For Hearts , though, the signs were positive. With Watt getting better and better as he gets up to match fitness, they also had the added bonus of finally being able to give forward Bjorn Johnsen his debut, with the drawn-out contract saga and issues with international clearance finally resolved.
Replacing Sammon in the 73rd minute he illustrated why the club refused to walk away from the deal despite the difficulties, showing delightful vision and touch to backheel the ball into the path of Sam Nicholson for him to lash home the side’s fourth. The winger added another a minute later before a mish-mash in the box with three minutes left led to Callum Paterson, who remains a target for Wigan Athletic, helping Ross Draper’s shot over the line for an Inverness goal.