This heavyweight clash, arguably between the two biggest clubs outside the Old Firm, saw league leaders Hearts welcome Aberdeen to Tynecastle.
Craig Levein’s team were looking to respond against Aberdeen. This was after their first league defeat of the season to Rangers at Ibrox.
The Jambos are in somewhat of an injury/suspension crisis and it was evident with the starting 11 for this match. John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu the latest to hit the treatment table, both out for 5 months to join the already injured Christophe Berra, Peter Haring who was ruled out for this match and the suspended Michael Smith following his red card at Ibrox.
Derek McInnes made just the one change from the Aberdeen team that smashed St Mirren 4-1 last time out, James Wilson replacing young Connor McLennan, the youngster impressive that day but dropped for the Manchester United loanee up front.
In a first half where the home side largely dominated, their first chance came when Oliver Bozanic’s long throw came back out to the Aussie midfielder, looking to cross for Steven Naismith but the league’s top scorer was under pressure from Dominic Ball and blazed wide from close range. Naismith inches away from giving Hearts the lead, Joe Lewis furious with the Dons’ defending.
A feisty encounter resulted in 11 bookings (5 Hearts, 6 Aberdeen) and the Jambos would take the lead following Andy Considine’s challenge, and then subsequent booking, on Steven Naismith. The centre back adamant he won the ball after Naismith nipped in and took it away from the long-serving Aberdeen defender.
Olly Lee had options in the box but opted to play it to Callumn Morrison out on the right hand side. The youngster who is continuing to impress and not look out of place, after loan spells at Stirling Albion and Brechin City, sent in a wicked delivery which was nodded goalwards by Arnaud Djoum with a fantastic header as the league leaders took the lead with around ten minutes to spare in the first half. A first goal for the Cameroonian since scoring in a 4-0 victory against Hamilton Accies in March 2017, Hearts then under Ian Cathro.
The Jambos were looking to make their aerial presence count, Jimmy Dunne the target at many a set piece and throw in. Hearts would get the chance to double their lead before half time following an altercation after an Olly Lee corner, the English midfielder looking for the danger man Naismith and after a foul by Lewis Ferguson, the referee pointed to the spot.
Hearts had had several claims waved away already and whilst this was harsh in comparison to the other claims, Kevin Clancy pointed to the spot.
Steven Naismith had missed his last penalty kick, against Livingston at Tynecastle. Here, off the back of his friendly goal against Portugal for Scotland, he made no mistake smashing down the middle past Joe Lewis for September’s Premiership Player of the Month to grab his 12th goal in 18 appearances for club and country this season.
The Dons vastly improved in the second 45 primarily due to Niall McGinn and Scott Wright coming on and as Max Lowe sent it forward for the former, he skipped inside Marcus Godinho and was tripped by the Canadian, giving Aberdeen the chance to half the deficit and get right back in the game with a penalty decision as clear cut as you’re ever likely to see.
The Northern Irishman handed the duties over to fellow winger Gary Mackay-Steven, versus Bobby Zlamal and GMS made no mistake, smashing left footed into the bottom right hand corner, giving the Czech shotstopper no chance as the game looked to change complexion, 2-1 with Aberdeen’s first goal away to Hearts in three visits.
A lot has been made of the arrival of Sean Clare in Gorgie, supposedly fending off interest from Premier League teams and the former Sheffield Wednesday man was involved in the Tynecastle team’s next opportunity as they looked to reinstate their two goal advantage.
A Bobby Zlamal goal kick was taken down by Naismith and the goalscorers linked up as he found Djoum who drove towards goal before finding Sean Clare who looked to feed it inside. The pass was intercepted but pounced upon by Bozanic, finding his central midfield partner Olly Lee and Hearts continued to build an attack as it made its way to Naismith once more.
The second goalscorer clipped a ball towards the back post and found the man who grabbed the opener but Djoum should’ve doubled his tally for the afternoon, instead heading onto Joe Lewis’ chest from inside the six yard box and the Dons keeper kept his side firmly in the game with a great save, a real sitter for Djoum having got off the mark for the season earlier on in this game.
Aberdeen should have made Hearts pay. Graeme Shinnie had intercepted on halfway before a lung bursting run saw him tackled by Jimmy Dunne as he entered the Hearts area. The ball fell out to James Wilson, who on the half volley, skewed his effort high and wide. The young striker knows he should have brought the Dons level from two down.
Talking about making one side pay for their mistakes, Hearts would get another opportunity to surely put the game beyond their visitors this time. Olly Lee with another free kick and upon its delivery, Sean Clare was brought down by Shay Logan. Penalty to Hearts for the second time in the match according to Kevin Clancy.
Up stepped Steven Naismith and with the scintillating form he is in, you’d put the mortgage on him tucking it away to restore the Jambos’ two goal advantage. He shot to Joe Lewis’ left with a perfect height for the goalkeeper to push away and leave the scoreline at 2-1.
Less than ten minutes to go and Aberdeen could well have been on level terms with another chance. Jimmy Dunne slicing away a GMS corner back to the winger who sent a curling effort goalbound, only for it to be pushed away by Bobby Zlamal and Hearts held on for the win to make it 22 points from a possible 27 at the top of the Premiership, Aberdeen sitting in seventh place and 10 points behind Hearts already.
Next up for these sides, both play their Betfred Cup semi finals on Sunday. Hearts play Celtic at Murrayfield before Aberdeen take on Rangers at Hampden, the Jambos also face Dundee in the league at Dens Park on Tuesday night, the fixture being brought forward to accommodate that semi-final.