Incredible performance seals vital point
As Aberdeen rained down attack after attack on ten man Hearts it seemed impossible that Hearts would again hold on - yet somehow a combination of determination, desire and a little luck meant the Edinbugh club were able to leave Pittodrie with the point that keeps the club's quest for Europe firmly on course.
Hearts were well in the game until Marius Zaliukas' notorious disciplinary problems reared their ugly head yet again and the visitors were forced to face out the final 30 minutes a man down. But just like so many other times under Csaba Laszlo, the players put their bodies on the line and escaped Aberdeen with a vital point from this 0-0 draw.
Csaba Laszlo was forced into two changes to the side that lost to Hibs as Andrew Driver failed a late fitness test and Christos Karipidis missed out through suspension. As expected in stepped Laryea Kingston and Adrian Mrowiec with Eggert Jonsson dropping back into centre defence. The surprising choice from Csaba Laszlo was to deploy Mrowiec wide on the right with Kingston sitting in front of the back four. The Hearts boss clearly feeling the need for experience in the more defensive position as he prepared his side for a backs-to-the-wall performance against an Aberdeen team with their own European aspirations.
The determination of their opponents wasn't the only problem plaguing Laszlo's team in the first half as the players clearly showed a lack of confidence following last week's humbling by Hibs. That mindset coupled with some tired legs at this end of the season meant the first half belonged to the home side.
First to test the Hearts rearguard was Charlie Mulgrew as he swung in a 10th minute corner right on top of keeper Marian Kello. Under pressure the Slovak diverted the ball only as far as Scott Severin who could only lash the ball into the side netting.
Larry Kingston appeared to be adapting well to his new role as he flew around the park in an attempt to break up the constant stream of Aberdeen attacks. But midway through the half injury put a stop to that contribution and twice in the space of ten minutes Aberdeen cut through the middle of the park like a hot knife through butter.
First Chris Maguire found himself unchallenged as he burst through before laying off for Jamie Smith to have a pop from 20 yards that was well saved by Kello. Then Smith turned provider as he rode a couple of challenges before shifting the ball wide to Mulgrew who crossed for Lee Miller to head over.
Ten minutes before half-time Hearts eventually produced something that resembled their best football. Obua and Stewart worked together through the centre and while Stewart's attempted through ball for the Ugandan was blocked, Elliot struck the rebound from 25 yards that fizzed past Langfield's left hand post.
Hearts needed a boost in attack and, unwittingly, it was the knock to Kingston that eventually provided it. With more established players on the bench, Laszlo turned to David Templeton for his first ever appearance to try and add some energy to Hearts attack that lacked both conviction and creativity. And what an impact young Templeton almost made.
Playing on the right wing the youngster cut inside before embarking on an outstanding solo run in which he beat three defenders and found himself baring down on Jamie Langfield in the Aberdeen goal. Quickly running out of time and space he managed to poke the ball towards goal where only the fingertips of Langfield denied the debutant a stunning goal.
Aberdeen were again thankful for the heroics of their goalkeeper five minutes after the restart. Calum Elliot could only manage a touch on a Bruno Aguiar cross and Langfield was again able to tip the ball to safety.
Once a lacklustre encounter the game was now exploding into life as Jamie Smith wasted the games best opportunity as he crashed the ball off the post with the goal gaping. Then the very next minute Sone Aluko found his powerful effort denied by Kello before Vidal blasted the rebound over.
End to end football was now in full flow at Pittodrie and Hearts were next to go close. First Marius Zaliukas wasted a free header following a free kick on the right then Calum Elliot shot wide from a tight angle as the forward badly lacked support from his teammates.
Then history repeated itself at Pittodrie. In an off the ball incident Marius Zaliukas was found guilty of allegedly striking out at Chris Maguire and the defender was handed a straight red card. The Hearts players and fans were enraged but there was little protest from Zaliukas who quietly left the field of play, his head bowed.
Despite the numerical disadvantage Hearts created the games next opportunity as Robbie Neilson fought to win the ball on the right flank but his ball into Elliot was too close to Langfield and the keeper was again able to deny Hearts.
Aberdeen then proceeded to hammer Hearts with attack after attack as the Pittodrie crowed roared them on. With under a quarter of an hour remaining Jamie Smith again wasted a glorious chance as he smashed the ball wide of Kello's goal after finding himself in acres of space inside the area. Aluko then had a shot from a tight angle cannon back of the post. Such was the home side's pressure that a goal only seemed like a matter of time before arriving.
Somehow the moment never came and the last chance of the game even came the way of resilient visitors as Christian Nade found himself with some space in the area deep into injury time but could only drive his low shot wide of the post.
A wave of relief washed over Hearts as the full time whistle went. The draw means a win over Dundee United on Saturday will clinch European football next season.
Aberdeen: Langfield; Vidal, Mair, Severin, Mulgrew; Aluko, McDonald, Foster, Smith (Duff 81); Miller, Maguire (Pawlett 70). Subs Not Used: Bossu, Stewart, Paton, Ross, Holm. Booked: Foster, Mulgrew
Hearts: Kello; Neilson, Zaliukas, Jonsson, Wallace; Mrowiec, Stewart, Aguiar, Kingston (Templeton 40 (Thomson 90)), Obua; Elliot (Nade 88). Subs Not Used: Balogh, Tullberg, Nade, Thomson, McGowan, Templeton, Glen. Booked: Zaliukas, Templeton, Jonsson. Sent Off: Zaliukas
Referee: Stephen Finnie
Top man: Adrian Mrowiec
Join Lawrence Broadie, Mark Donaldson and Gary Mackay, on air from 7.30pm on Hearts.TV for full audio coverage of tonight's game.