Friday 30 December 2016, 19.45, Tynecastle Park
A very quick return to Tynecastle, this time for the Scottish Premiership match between Hearts and Aberdeen.
A second look at Aberdeen for us this season, after being at the game between the two sides in the north east in August, which ended 0-0.
Hearts would have gone into the game in confident mood after their 4-0 win over Kilmarnock 3 days earlier, although they were forced to make two changes, with Paterson and Buaben both injured during that game. Smith slotted in at right back while Cowie, himself returning from injury, replaced Buaben.
Aberdeen were unchanged for the third match in a row, with wins over Motherwell and Hamilton in their most recent games. The latter had also been on the Tuesday night, the games coming thick and fast for both while most of the rest of Scottish football rested up.
Hearts came into the game in fourth position, three points behind Aberdeen.
There were 16,630 in attendance.
It was a very scrappy start to the game, with both sides keen to get on top, there were a lot of fouls in the opening minutes. Aberdeen’s Logan became the first player booked after just 8 minutes for bringing down Walker.
The game was 10 minutes old before the first effort at goal, McGinn hitting a speculative shot at the Hearts goal from out wide which Hamilton saved comfortably.
Despite the poor early fare, the Dons were starting to dictate the play and in 15 minutes, McGinn’s corner found the head of Reynolds deep in the Hearts box, but he nodded wide. He had been completely unmarked and should have done better.
Taylor became the second Aberdeen played booked in 18 minutes after bringing down Johnsen as he ran in on goal. Walker had a go from the free kick 25 yards from goal, but it was an easy save for Lewis.
In 26 minutes, Aberdeen put a good move together and McGinn’s cross from the right was met well by McLean, but Hamilton managed to scramble across his line to push the header away.
The home side were struggling to create anything against a well marshalled defence and this was exemplified by Kitchen having a shot from distance in 31 minutes which didn’t trouble Lewis.
A minute later Aberdeen almost made the breakthrough. Hayes played the ball down the line for Shinnie whose low cross was steered goalwards by McGinn, but Hamilton was there once again to block.
Cowie was next to have a shot from distance for Hearts. His drive in 35 minutes again not unduly concerning Lewis.
A scramble in the Hearts box in 36 minutes saw both Rooney and Taylor not connecting with the ball properly before it trickled behind.
With two minutes to half time Shinnie brought the ball forward for Aberdeen and let fly from outside the box. His low effort beat Hamilton but crashed back off the post. Rooney was first onto the rebound for what looked like a certain goal but didn’t make good contact and the ball went wide.
It was still goalless at half time, although Aberdeen should certainly have been in front on the balance of play and opportunities.
I was a little surprised at no obvious changes to the Hearts formation after how the first half had gone when the second period kicked off. The only discernible alteration being that Nowak seemed to be even deeper in his defensive midfield role. While he does regularly drop back into the defence, it seemed to be a more permanent arrangement after the break.
The slight alteration showed no signs of changing the flow of the game though, as Aberdeen continued to be in the ascendancy.
The opening minute of the half saw McLean’ shot from outside the box half blocked and it spun up in the air into the grateful arms of Hamilton.
In 54 minutes, Logan shot at the Hearts goal and saw his effort deflected narrowly wide. McGinn’s corner picked out McLean on the edge of the box, but he dragged his volley wide.
Logan swung a cross into the Hearts box in 57 minutes and Rooney should have done better than head over the bar.
A rare Hearts corner in 62 minutes relieved some of the pressure on the home defence, and Smith won the ball in the air from Cowie’s cross, but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Normal service was resumed in 65 minutes with Shinnie’s shot going wide of the home goal.
McLean flicked the ball to McGinn on the wing as the Dons came forward again in 66 minutes. He sprinted down the right wing and cut the ball back to find an unmarked Hayes who gleefully smashed the ball into the net to give Aberdeen the lead they deserved. Rooney had been coming in behind Hayes and would have surely grabbed the opener if Hayes hadn’t been there.
Hearts’ Johnsen went into the book soon after the goal.
The home side finally tried to change shape in 74 minutes with teenage striker Rory Currie coming on to replace Djoum. It was intended as a positive move, but had little effect on the Aberdeen dominance.
McLean came close to adding to the lead in 82 minutes with a low shot from 20 yards, but managed to save at full stretch.
A Hearts corner in 86 minutes wasn’t properly cleared and Walker turned away from Taylor and shot towards goal, but Lewis did well to turn the ball round the post.
Aberdeen had a great chance to finally kill off Hearts in 87 minutes when McLean’s run down the left saw his ball across the six yard box inches away from the foot of McGinn.
Deep into injury time, Cowie had a header from close range, but under pressure, he could only put it over the bar.
A convincing win by Aberdeen, despite what looks like a narrow win on paper. They showed excellent work rate and desire and Hearts didn’t know what to do with their formation, they were nullified on the flanks and stifled in midfield.
There were no failures for the Dons, but McLean was the stand-out. A bad night for Hearts, for whom Hamilton was the star.
Full Time: Hearts 0 Aberdeen 1
Hearts: 1 Jack Hamilton, 24 Liam Smith, 14 John Souttar, 4 Igor Rossi (Muirhead 82), 3 Faycal Rherras, 15 Don Cowie, 19 Krystian Nowak, 6 Perry Kitchen, 7 Jamie Walker, 10 Arnaud Sutchuin-Djoum (Currie 74), 20 Bjorn Johnsen. Subs: 5 Alim Ozturk, 13 Viktor Noring, 17 Juwon Oshaniwa, 18 Conor Sammon, 23 Robbie Muirhead, 26 Dario Zanatta, 30 Rory Currie.
Aberdeen: 1 Joe Lewis, 2 Shay Logan, 5 Ash Taylor, 6 Mark Reynolds, 4 Andrew Considine, 22 Ryan Jack, 3 Graeme Shinnie, 10 Niall McGinn (O’Connor 87), 7 Kenny McLean, 11 Jonny Hayes, 9 Adam Rooney. Subs: 8 Wes Burns, 15 Anthony O’Connor, 16 Peter Pawlett, 17 Jayden Stockley, 23 James Maddison, 25 Neil Alexander, 39 Miles Storey.
Referee: Willie Collum