Changed mind means Hearts pay the (no) penalty
Hearts-Aberdeen encounters rarely produce a tame match, but today we have a talking point that could go on and on and on. Getting the unimportant details out of the way first - Darren Mackie gave the Dons an early lead after an error from Zaliukas, before Lee Wallace thumped Hearts level less than ten minutes later. But it was the other end of the game, the closing moments, that produced such controversy, when referee Mr Conroy awarded a penalty to Hearts in the 84th minute, only to change his mind after consulting with his assistant nearest to the incident. We'll be charitable to Aberdeen and say that they probably were worth the point they earned, but they will be thanking whatever higher force was responsible for a truly incredible turn of events.
The disappointment of the last home display against an aggressive Killie had been tempered somewhat by a gutsy showing over in Leith last Sunday. That said, it was Aberdeen who threatened first, when Diamond headed over from an early corner. Hearts were deploying a 4-5-1 formation again, with the recently-returned Aguiar moving upfield to support Nade in attack. And Bruno lit up the opening minutes with some sublime touches, which met with approval from the home support.
What didn't meet with approval was a catastrophic misjudgment from Zaliukas after 12 minutes. A seemingly harmless ball from deep was left by the Lithuanian defender, who failed to see Mackie lurking behind him. Balogh came out to close the angle but the Aberdeen striker slotted the ball coolly underneath him, for the opening goal of the game. Temporarily, the Jambos were silenced.
The lead didn't last long. After a few uncomfortable moments, Wallace produced a terrific run down the left channel, taking out Hodgkiss with a neat turn and playing a delightful one-two with Nade on the edge of the box. By the time he received the return ball, Lee was about ten yards out and he leathered it high past Langfield and into the roof of the net. All square, and richly deserved.
Compared to last season, when Hearts mustered only one real fightback after going behind - the end of season 3-2 win over St Mirren - no one can question the spirit and determination of this year's squad. Suddenly the Dons were all over the place, as they were stretched by Aguiar and Palazuelos on one side, and Nade and Mikoliunas on the other. Eggert Jonsson was also the defence a torrid time, as was Aguiar with a couple of great corner deliveries, which neither Nade nor Miko could quite convert with their heads.
There had been few clear-cut opportunities, despite the frenetic pace. Miko was booked in the 41st minute for a mistimed tackle - nobody disputed the foul, but it was a harsh yellow card, and again we ask the question; would it have been a booking had it not been Miko? There certainly appeared to be a split second between referee Mr Conroy, who was officiating competently at this stage, awarding the foul and then realising who had perpetrated it.
Miko didn't let it get to him, and he ended the half by trying a left foot volley that didn't trouble Langfield. Neither side changed anything at half time, with the supporters of both teams hoping for more open, attacking football. In the opening minutes one of the assistant referees incurred the wrath of the Wheatfield Stand by ruling that Miko had tripped Aluko, when again it looked a harsh decision.
Both sides looked capable of conjuring something out of nothing, which in truth was how each goal had materialised. Nade, who was working tirelessly up front, somehow contrived to miss a straightforward header at goal, from Aguiar's neat, pristine corner. The ball sailed over the bar from about four yards out, when anywhere on target would have sufficed.
Balogh, who had looked so sure of himself in the first period, made a mess of a simple ball that won Aberdeen a corner. From said corner, Stewart's clearance fell to Jared Hodgkiss. who proceeded to thump an incredible shot off the corner of the bar. Such was the force behind Hodgkiss's effort, the ball ended up almost a third of the way down the pitch before anybody could control it again.
Mr Conroy inadvertently prevented Stewart playing a threatening ball through to Palazuelos, which as you can imagine went down like a lead balloon with the the Tynecastle faithful. This strange game, so full of excitement but without many obvious chances, was entering the last 20 minutes.
A quick-fire Aberdeen attack resulted in Considine's low shot causing panic in the box, before Zaliukas, keen to make amends for his error earlier, swooped in to clear. Some fine work from Nade enabled him to cross for Aguiar to head agonisingly wide. It was in many ways another performance where Hearts were able to control the game but without ever really cutting their guests open. Csaba knows which third of the pitch requires the most work.
That said, Aberdeen were still very, very dangerous, as eptomised by Lee Miller's fierce drive which came off the post. We were set for a nervy finale.
Controversy reigned after 84 minutes when it appeared that Langfield brought down Stewart in the box. Mr Conroy signalled a penalty, and after protestations from the Aberdeen players, then consulted with his assistant referee, before changing his mind. We have of course condensed about three minutes worth of action into a couple of sentences, and a couple of sentences was about all we could manage, so speechless were we by this turn of events. Perhaps we shouldn't say any more at this time, but if it wasn't a penalty, then shouldn't it have been a booking?
Still, Hearts pressed hard. Cesnauskis chased a seemingly lost cause down to the goal line and thrashed the ball past Langfield, resulting in a goalmouth scramble, that Jamie Mole finished by shooting just over.
Perhaps the worst thing that would have happened for Mr Conroy is if Aberdeen had scored at the end. They didn't, and the game finished with Hearts piling on the pressure, although not quite able to make it count. We're sure that this game will be written about for a while, and at ten to five on a Saturday afternoon, some people have a lot of explaining to do.
Hearts: Ballogh; Jonsson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Mikoliunas (Cesnauskis, 78), Karipidis, Stewart, Palazuelos; Aguiar (Ksanavicius, 85), Nade (Mole, 74). Booked: Mikoliunas. Subs not used: MacDonald, Makela, Thomson, Rapnik.
Aberdeen: Langfield; Foster, Diamond, Severin, Miler (Mulgrew, 88) Mackie, Derek Young, Hodgkiss, Mair, Considine, Aluko. Booked: Considine. Subs not used: Bateman, Mulgrew, Wright, Kerr, Duff, De Visscher, Maguire.
Referee: Steve Conroy
Top man: Bruno Aguiar
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