Heart of Midlothian 2-1 Aberdeen
Saturday 20th October 2018, KO 15:00 | Ladbrokes Premiership | Tynecastle Park
Hearts put to bed any doubts about the strength of their squad with a 2-1 win over Aberdeen.
First-half goals from Arnaud Djoum and Steven Naismith had the Jambos flying, though Gary Mackay-Steven pulled one back from the spot.
Naismith saw a second penalty saved by Joe Lewis in what was a frantic yet highly entertaining Ladbrokes Premiership game.
Craig Levein made four changes from the side that lost at Ibrox prior to the international break. John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu and Peter Haring all missed out through injury while Michael Smith served a one-match ban.
Oliver Bozanic and Clevid Dikamona were handed their first league and competitive starts respectively, with Callumn Morrison on the wing and Marcus Gordinho returned from injury to make his first appearance of the season.
There was an early Hearts penalty shout only three minutes in. Olly Lee’s swinging corner saw three maroon shirts hit the deck, with Dikamona, Naismith and Jimmy Dunne all wrestled to the deck, but referee Kevin Clancy waved play on.
Another corner was won and the Jambos were inches away from taking the lead. Demi Mitchell peeled away from his man to hit Lee’s corner first time, but the ball bounced across the face of goal and narrowly wide of Joe Lewis’ left-hand post.
The men in maroon piled the pressure on in the opening stages and on eight minutes Lee’s corner was cleared only as far Mitchell who, from 25-yards, hit a rocket shot that flew over the bar.
The game became a physical battle but Hearts stood firm and continued to play some impressive football. Lee’s 23rd minute cross to the backdoor was met by Naismith, who got the right side of his man at the edge of the six-yard box, but his outstretched leg couldn’t steer the ball on target.
The deadlock was broken in the 36th minute and it was the goal the Jambos so richly deserved. Lee’s short free-kick down the line found Morrison, who crossed into the box for Djoum to outjump his man and glance a header into the opposite corner.
Five minutes later, Hearts were awarded a penalty. Naismith ran on to Lee’s low corner and was bundled over by Lewis Ferguson, and the league’s top scorer dusted himself down to send Lewis the wrong way from the spot, bagging his tenth goal of the season.
The Dons introduced Niall McGinn and Scott Wright at half-time and the former nearly made an instant impact; bursting forward with possession before trying his luck from distance, but his low drive was straight at Bobby Zlamal.
Aberdeen were handed a foot back into the game when Godinho tripped McGinn from behind inside the box and Mackay-Steven duly dispatched from the spot.
The ball somehow stayed out of the back of the Aberdeen net in the 67th minute. Lee’s pass into the box saw Naismith chip back into the middle for Djoum to header on target but Lewis produced a good save, only to see the ball cannon back off Mitchell and into his arms on the deck.
Aberdeen passed up a glorious opportunity to get back on level terms after 74 minutes. Shinnie burst through the middle of the park but was stopped in his tracks by a brilliant Dunne challenge and the ball bounced to the unmarked James Wilson inside the box, however, the Dons striker could only blast over the bar.
With 12 minutes remaining Hearts were awarded another penalty when substitute Sean Clare was hauled down when going for Lee’s free-kick, but Naismith saw his second spot kick well saved by Lewis.
Zlamal was at his best to deny Aberdeen the equaliser with eight minutes remaining. Mackay-Steven’s corner came back to him at the edge of the box when Dunne miskicked his clearance, but his low curling effort was expertly pushed around the post by a full-stretch Hearts No.1.
The visitors attempted a late onslaught but Hearts were not to be deterred as they saw out the game to open up a three-point gap at the top of the table.
Hearts: Zlamal, Dunne, Bozanic, Lee, Djoum, Mitchell, Naismith, MacLean (Clare, 61'), Godinho (Hughes, 75'), Dikamona, Morrison. Subs: Doyle, Amankwaa, Wighton, Garuccio, Cochrane.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Logan, Shinnie, Considine, Wilson (May, 75'), Mackay-Steven, Cosgrove (McGinn, 46'), Devlin, Ferguson, Ball (Wright, 46'), Lowe. Subs: Cerny, Gleeson, Anderson, McLennan.
Referee: Kevin Clancy