Match Report: Dundee United 2-2 Hearts

24 December 2022

Steven Fletcher gave the home side the lead before Michael Smith struck before half time to get the Jambos back on level terms. A Hearts penalty for handball was then awarded but the referee reversed his decision following a VAR check, and Dylan Levitt struck minutes into the restart to get United back in front.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Hearts lost Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley and Craig Gordon to injury, with the latter leaving the pitch on a stretcher.

But four minutes into second half injury time, Shankland was hauled to the deck and a third penalty was awarded. This time the decision stood, and the striker sent the keeper the wrong way to secure a share of the spoils.

Robbie Neilson stuck with the same starting XI that beat Kilmarnock a week previous, with the only change coming on the bench as Kye Rowles replaced Lewis Neilson.

Rowles didn’t have long to wait before being called into action after Halkett picked up an injury after five minutes, which saw the Australian replace him in defence.

Despite this setback Hearts started brightly, with Barrie McKay and Lawrence Shankland combining often to test the Utd backline. On eight minutes, the former played a deft ball into the box for the latter who was forced wide but found Andy Halliday, who picked out McKay on the edge of the box but his shot was saved by Mark Birighitti.

Glenn Middleton had United’s first shot on target not long after, hitting a low drive from 18-yards but it was straight at Gordon who gathered on the second attempt.

Hearts went close on the quarter hour mark when Alex Cochrane’s teasing ball into the box was met by Shankland, only for Birighitti make a great point-blank save but the flag went up for offside.

Against the run of play, the hosts took the lead on 20 minutes. Fletcher latched on to a long ball forward and from 20-yards out, his left-foot shot took a big deflection off of Rowles and the ball nestled in the bottom corner of the net.

Josh Ginnelly went close to resorting parity on the half hour mark. He collected the ball and drove at the heart of the Dundee United defence before curling a shot from the edge of the box which flew over the top corner.

United had a brace of chances soon after. First, Fletcher’s bullet header was beaten away by Gordon. From the corner, Ian Harkes met the cross at the back door but his header landed on the roof of the net, clipping the bar on its way over.

The Jambos injury curse struck again before the half was out, with Stephen Kingsley forced off with a head knock. He was replaced by Toby Sibbick.

With a couple of minutes of the first half remaining, the Hearts got back on level terms. Cammy Devlin did well to stretch and send Smith into the box and he fired low, beyond Birighitti and into the back of the net to make it 1-1.

The drama wasn’t over as, deep into stoppage time, Arnaud Djoum slid in to block Devlin’s shot inside the box and the ball hit both of his arms. Despite initially awarding a penalty, following a VAR check, he changed his mind and overturned his own decision, much to the disappointment of the Jambos.

Half time: Dundee United 1-1 Hearts

It took only two minutes after the restart for the next goal to come, and it was Dundee United that once again got their noses in front. Kieran Freeman moved the ball inside the Levitt, who curled a first time shot beyond Gordon from outside of the box.

Gordon kept Hearts in the game with a stunning save just before the hour mark. Middleton floated a ball into the box for Fletcher to head goalwards but Gordon sprang to tip it over the bar.

Controversy rang again with 15 minutes remaining. Fletcher chased Birighitti’s long ball into the Hearts box but was beaten to it by Gordon, but not before he clattered into the Hearts keeper. Referee Colin Steven immediately pointed to the spot as both players remained on the deck. After a lengthy VAR check, the referee reversed his decision for the second time in the game, while Gordon was stretchered off and Zander Clark replaced him for his Hearts debut.

Four minutes into injury time there was a third penalty award of the game, after Shankland was hauled down inside the box. The Hearts striker stepped up and slotted into Birighitti’s left-hand corner for his 15th goal of the season and to earn the Jam Tarts a point.

Dundee United: Birighitti, L. Smith, McMann, Fletcher (Watt, 75’), Djoum, Edwards, Middleton, Behich, Levitt, Freeman, Harkes. Subs: Eriksson, Mulgrew, Graham, Niskanen, Sibbald, Meekison, Sadat, Watt, MacLeod.

Hearts: Gordon (Clark, 75’), M. Smith, Kingsley (Sibbick, 38’), Halkett (Rowles, 5’), Shankland, Devlin (Forrest, 77’), Halliday (Grant, 77’), McKay, Cochrane, Ginnelly, Snodgrass. Subs: Kiomourtzoglou, Atkinson, Henderson, C. Smith.