The stalemate in Dingwall, which dented the Tynecastle side’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premiership and simultaneously gave their bottom-of-the-table hosts optimism that they can haul themselves to safety, was overshadowed by the misfortune encountered by the Cameroon internationalist, who won’t play again until well into next season after crumpling to the ground in agony while trying to chest a ball down in the first half.
Remarkably, Djoum is the second Hearts player to be struck down by the injury in the space of 13 months after Souttar suffered the same fate a little over a year ago. The defender returned in less than six months, but the prognosis is for up to eight months on the sidelines. Souttar warned his stricken team-mate, who was already battling through an injury-disrupted campaign, that a gruelling and demoralising period beckons.
“It’s horrible, absolutely horrible,” said the 21-year-old centre-back. “It’s a horrible injury because you can’t do anything about it. You can’t get your head round it. He’ll be in a lot of pain just now. He’ll probably be overthinking everything. I’ve told him he’ll come back from it but I’m absolutely gutted for him because he was just coming on to a game.
“The early months are the hardest part. Until you get the operation, your head’s all over the place. You’re just sitting in the house until about a week later, then you’ve got the operation, then you can’t move for about two weeks.
“He’ll be lying there with all sorts going through his head. I’ve told him I’ll do anything I can or give him any advice he needs, but he’s got two kids so I’m sure he’ll have his mind occupied better than I was.”
Djoum’s injury was the only notable incident of an otherwise forgettable first half. The midfielder was replaced by Andy Irving, one of three Hearts players aged 17 or younger who came off the bench in a match played in glorious late-winter sunshine. It was a couple of senior players, however, who helped Hearts take the lead following a strong start to the second half.
Shortly after Souttar had seen a close-range shot beaten out by Scott Fox, Don Cowie, who turned 35 on Friday, was fouled by Liam Fontaine just outside the penalty box as he burst on to a long kick-out from goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin which had been misjudged by County defender Harry Souttar, the brother of John. Top scorer Kyle Lafferty stepped up and fired home his 15th goal of the season from the resulting free kick, although the consensus was that Fox should have kept it out.
The visitors looked set to turn the screw, but, after Ross Callachan saw a well-taken volley ruled out for offside, County, without a home win for more than three months, suddenly started to dominate. The equaliser came in 76 minutes when Alex Schalk switched play to Jason Naismith on the right side of the penalty box and the marauding right-back took a touch before planting a low shot beyond McLaughlin from 12 yards out.
The hosts looked the likelier side to win it thereafter, but the fact Hearts were able to hold firm for a point on a day when they were well off their best was one of the few sources of consolation for manager Craig Levein, who was more preoccupied by thoughts for Djoum.
“The game really opened up after we got in front,” he said. “Normally we manage to control that but just the nature of the players we had on the field probably resulted in that happening. My hope was that we got a second because if we did, we’d win the game. But Ross County were adventurous in the second half.
“I’m disappointed – but doubly disappointed because Arnaud has snapped his Achilles tendon and he’ll be out for seven or eight months unfortunately. He’s had a terrible time of it.”
County manager Owen Coyle feels his side are turning the corner after yesterday’s point, coming on the back of a 4-1 win at Dundee, took his side within three points of the two sides immediately above them.
“I certainly felt we were worth three points but that’s two good performances back-to-back and the important time to play well is at the business end of the season,” he said. “We had a terrible run, but we look as if we’re well over that. We look now like a team capable of going and winning the points we need to move the club to safety.”