Gritty Hearts see off Caley challenge
Any thoughts of an avalanche of goals that may have greeted Saulius Mikoliunas's early strike were eventually ill-founded, but there was still much to be pleased about today. A first Clydesdale Bank Premier League clean sheet for Csaba Laszlo and a steady, solid performance across the pitch were enough to send Inverness home with nothing. The lack of penetration in the final third remains a cause for concern, however make no mistake - this is not a match Hearts would have won last season.
Despite an assured first few minutes from the home team, it was Caley who cut the first clear opportunity, when an untimely ricochet on the edge of the area bounced kindly for Philip McGuire. The former Dunfermline and Aberdeen man steadied himself but Kello was quick off his line to block expertly. Karapidis sent a neat overhead effort just over Michael Fraser's bar, and whilst we were still analysing this decent effort, Hearts took the lead.
A quick attack from the home side enabled Ksanavicius to take advantage of an absence of bodies in the home defence. His delightful through ball found Miko in acres of space, with Fraser having little choice but to come out and meet him. With a coolness that suggests a maturing head, Miko sidestepped the keeper and finished from a tight angle. A very well-worked goal, worthy of the acclaim that greeted it.
Seven minutes in and just the start Csaba Laszlo wanted. Hearts were in total ascendency, typified by Lee Wallace's terrific ball into the area which Stewart met with a magnificent first-time lob on 18 minutes. Fraser, to be fair, pulled off an equally impressive save, back-pedalling to tip over. Kingston's powerful run and fierce shot also drew applause, even though the Caley number one was not troubled in any way.
We know that we have had to work extremely hard in both home games so far this season - Motherwell and St Mirren have both pulled level at Tynecastle despite being under the cosh for much of the game. We received a timely reminder of how precarious our lead was when a poor throw-out from Kello invited Inverness to attack - the Slovakian international palmed away Ian Black's cross and then got his hands to Doug Imrie's follow-up, thus redeeming himself.
McGuire headed over in another Caley attack, before Miko, Shammy, Mole and Kingston combined to produce the same result at the other end. At half-time it had been the same story thus far in the new campaign - near dominance, but only one goal to show for it.
In the second period, Don Cowie was first to get a shot underway, curling his effort across goal - a touch from Barrowman or Rooney would have made Kello work. Mole was a tad late meeting Shammy's downward header when a quicker response might have merited a clear effort on target. Jamie Mole was having a positive effect upfront, but the pitfalls of being the lone forward were all too evident; every time he held the ball up on the edge of the box and played it out to the channels, the resulting cross would fizz in with no strikers ready to pounce.
Confusion in the Hearts defence allowed Adam Rooney a pop which was well blocked by Zaliukas. The big defender also produced a powerful clearance from the resulting corner. Further mayhem from the back four teed up Roy McBain for a left-foot volley that was superbly saved by Kello. The composure of previous moments was no longer there, and Csaba sought to bring back greater balance to the forward line by replacing Shammy with Nade, just before the hour.
Christian's first contribtion was to run onto Miko's through ball and cause havoc in the box, although his pass across the area was poorly met by Kingston. It is fair to say that the home support were getting a bit jittery, because the one-goal advantage was obviously not enough to make anyone feel secure.
Goalscorer Miko was taken off for Palazuelos as we entered the final fifteen minutes. Miko's last contribution was an excellent cross-field ball that set Kingston away, to run at the Caley defence and shoot straight at Fraser, who had been a virtual spectator for much of the second half. Ruben's first contribution, in contrast, was a solid defensive header from an ICT corner. With five minutes to go, Adrian Mrowiec made his Tynecastle bow, at the expense of Stewart.
The final few moments were, to put it politely, not comfortable viewing for a committed Jambo. But a combination of steel, commanding goalkeeping from Kello (a contender for top man), good hold up play from Mole and Nade, plus a determination that was not in evidence at all last season, made certain that the points remained in Gorgie. And it was (probably) right that they did so.
Hearts: Kello; Jonsson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Kingston, Stewart (Mrowiec, 85), Karipidis, Mikoliunas (Palazuelos, 76); Ksanavicius (Nade, 58); Mole. Booked: Ksanavicius, Stewart, Zaliukas. Subs not used: MacDonald, Palazuelos, Thomson, Rapnik, Glen.
Inverness: Fraser; Tokely, McGuire, Munro, Hastings; Cowie, Black (Wilson, 73), McBain (Vigurs, 80), Imrie; Rooney (Wood, 61), Barrowman. Booked: Tokely, Wood. Subs not used: Esson, Djebi-Zadi, McAllister, Duff.
Referee: William Collum
Top man: Christos Karipidis