Derek McInnes admitted it would take a “dramatic collapse” by Celtic if Aberdeen are to claim the Premiership title after his side missed enough chances at Tynecastle to win several games.
Hearts recovered from the loss of an early goal by Simon Church to put pressure on Aberdeen in second place after a double by Juanma. But first place now seems Celtic’s to lose. The Parkhead side can go eight points ahead with five games left with a win at Motherwell today.
“I’d never say it is gone, that is stupid,” said the Aberdeen manager. “I would never give it up, and I would not expect my players to give it up. But it is going to take a dramatic collapse from Celtic now.
“This was a real opportunity to put pressure on Celtic and show we are a side who can push them all the way. Ultimately when the game was in the balance we lost our composure and lost a poor goal. Although it is not mathematically impossible you would have to say we have gifted them [Celtic] a less pressurised game against Motherwell.”
Church said Aberdeen “fell to pieces” after his early goal.
“Hearts got their goal [after 33 minutes] and we fell to pieces a little bit after that,” said the Welsh striker. “We had opportunities throughout the game – it is always important to get that second goal.”
Church admitted Aberdeen lost cheap goals, particularly the first, when goalkeeper Scott Brown failed to hold Alim Ozturk’s shot. “Everyone in the changing room is very disappointed,” he said. “We wanted to put in a good performance and obviously get the points we need; we feel as though we have let them go.”
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson credited the home fans for helping Hearts recover their energy after a trying week of illness. The Tynecastle side’s midweek trip to Inverness had to be cancelled after a virus swept through the club.
“When you are playing in front of 17,500 people under floodlights at Tynecastle, they push you through it,” Neilson said. “You get that energy and it gives you a lift. There was never going to be any danger of us feeling tired.”
While a slow start seemed to point to there being lingering after-effects, Hearts shrugged off any lethargy to overturn Aberdeen’s early lead, given to them by Church’s fourth minute flick. Two goals by Juanma before the hour mark put Hearts in command.
Neilson’s team selection was influenced by those least affected by the sickness bug. “I picked a team today who I thought were fittest,” he said.
“Aberdeen are still in poll position for second, if not first. It’s a dent for them but I hope they keep pushing on – except when they play us – because it keeps us going as well.”