Hearts battled back from two goals down to secure a Premiership point with Ross County in our final match of 2023.
A close-range finish from Josh Sims put the Staggies ahead on 53 minutes at Tynecastle, before a stunning free kick from Yan Dhanda found the top corner. Hearts had their chances, and two big penalty shouts, before Kenneth Vargas pulled one back on 70 minutes.
The Jambos kept at it and were rewarded for their efforts as Lawrence Shankland grabbed the equaliser ten minutes from time.
Steven Naismith made three changes to the side that won the Edinburgh derby during the week. Craig Halkett, Alex Lowry and Kyosuke Tagawa all came into the starting 11 as Stephen Kingsley, Beni Baningime and Alan Forrest dropped out.
With barely a minute on the clock, County had a goal chopped off for offside. Yan Dhanda tested Clark with a shot from 25-yards, with Ben Purrington pouncing to head home on the rebound – with the flag soon raised after Jordan White was found to be ahead of play.
Hearts wasted no time in composing themselves: a weighted ball from Nieuwenhof set Alex Lowry scarpering to the edge of the County area – his resulting effort taking a wicked deflection off the leg of Ryan Leak.
The chances kept tumbling from the dour Gorgie sky: Kyosuke Tagawa nearly had the Jambos in front after 13 minutes following a teasing cross from Cochrane on the left, with the Japanese forward not quite able to steer it beyond Ross Laidlaw in the Staggies goal.
A mix up in the maroon defence on the 20-minute mark allowed the visitors to sneak through: Dhanda’s surging run culminated in a splitting pass into Simon Murray who forced a stop from Zander Clark, before the Hearts ‘keeper reacted quickly to make a second save from Josh Sims.
The men in maroon had a penalty shout on the half hour mark after Ben Purrington appeared to bring down Nathaniel Atkinson in a heap inside the County box. Despite the protests, match official Alan Muir waved it away.
HALF-TIME: HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN 0-0 ROSS COUNTY
Two changes came at half-time as Aidan Denholm and Kyosuke Tagawa were replaced by Yutaro Oda and Alan Forrest, with the latter having a swift impact.
Forrest raced through soon after coming on, rounding Laidlaw in the process, but appeared to be clipped by the Staggies goalkeeper on the way through before hitting the deck. Alan Muir again waved away appeals for a spot kick before booking the winger for simulation.
Ross County took the lead after 53 minutes through Josh Sims. A sweeping move up the park from Simon Murray saw the ball cut back into the Hearts area. Alex Cochrane and Sims were in a foot race with the other to reach the ball, with Sims getting there first to bundle over for the opener.
A stunning free-kick from Yan Dhanda after 63 minutes brought County their second of the afternoon. A foul on the edge of the area cleared the way for the midfielder to send a swirling effort high into the top corner past Zander Clark.
Hearts kept plugging away and were rewarded for their persistence after 70 minutes when Kenneth Vargas pulled one back. A delightful ball forward sent the Costa Rican through on goal, finishing with aplomb past Ross Laidlaw.
In a display of true grit and determination, the Jambos soon had the equaliser. In a crowded goalmouth, Lawrence Shankland struck hard and true to pull Hearts back on level terms with ten minutes left to play.
Lawrence Shankland had a chance to win it in injury time but could only divert Calem Nieuwenhof’s cross over the crossbar as Hearts took a share of the spoils.
Hearts: Clark, Atkinson, Kent, Rowles, Halkett (Kingsley 64’), Cochrane, Nieuwenhof, Denholm (Forrest 45’), Lowry (Vargas 64’), Tagawa (Oda 45’), Shankland
Subs: Gordon, Kingsley, Haring, Oda, Forrest, Sibbick, Pollock, Tait, Vargas
Ross County: Laidlaw, Purrington, Brown, Baldwin, Allardice, Dhanda, Sims (Loturi 80’), Sheaf, Murray (Brophy 68’), White (Harmon 77’), Leak
Subs: Munro, Turner, Loturi, Harmon, Henderson, Samuel, Brophy, Reid