Heart of Midlothian 1-1 Aberdeen
Sunday 29th December 2019, KO 14:00 | Ladbrokes Premiership | Tynecastle Park
Hearts earned their first point under Daniel Stendel with an impressive display against Aberdeen even after going down to ten men midway through the second half.
The manager had made four changes from the disappointing derby defeat to Hibs on Boxing Day, with returns to the side for Clevid Dikamona, Ollie Bozanic, Andy Irving and Euan Henderson, while those dropping out included Jake Mulraney, Aidan White, Loic Damour and Christophe Berra.
The game was largely being played in the middle of the park in the opening stages as both teams sought to gain a foothold, and Hearts were first to threaten when the impressive Irving found Ryo Meshino in space, he played a neat one-two with Henderson before firing wide of Joe Lewis’ left-half post.
Meshino was in the thick of the action in the early stages and threatened again soon after. He ran towards goal before pirouetting past his marker but blasted over from 20 yards. Hearts were all over their opponents and Meshino was involved again when he latched onto an Uche Ikpeazu cross, but his shot was hacked off the line by Shay Logan.
Henderson, Irving and Meshino were linking up wonderfully well in the first half, and Henderson won a free kick eight minutes before the interval that was dangerously swung into the penalty area. The ball fell to the day’s captain, Craig Halkett, but Lewis was out to block the ball well.
A minute later, Michael Smith found Aaron Hickey wide on the left, and the full-back cut the ball back onto his right foot before swinging a ball in that Bozanic rose to meet, but Lewis clawed the ball away as a Hearts-dominated first half came to an end.
The Jambos were on the front foot again immediately into the second half, and Ikpeazu began by tearing down the left wing before putting in a low ball for Henderson. He got the final touch under some pressure, and the ball looped over the bar, but the goal was coming.
And what a goal it was. Henderson did well to get to the ball ahead of Scott McKenna, before laying it off to Meshino who tore forward at goal, moved infield and curled an absolute beauty into the top corner from 25 yards to give Hearts a richly deserved lead.
It was nearly 2-0 four minutes later. Henderson drove into the Aberdeen half, before back-heeling the ball to Irving, who cut the ball back onto his left foot before letting fly from 20 yards, but Lewis palmed the ball around the post.
There was a tasty atmosphere building, and even the manager saw himself booked for taking exception to an Aberdeen challenge. The referee would then become even more involved, to Hearts’ cost, halfway through the second half.
Hearts switched off from a quick free kick, and saw Jon Gallagher run through on goal. Sean Clare felt he was left with no choice, and pulled back the Aberdeen forward 25 yards from goal, unfortunately seeing red for his decision, with the fans applauding the Englishman from the park.
Sadly, it would get worse, as Aberdeen levelled the match from the resulting free kick with their first shot on target of the match. Niall McGinn stepped up and curled a lovely free kick in off the post to give the Dons the momentum going into the final twenty minutes.
The manager sought to mix things up by introducing Damour and Conor Washington to the side, with the Northern Irishman making his return after three months out. Aberdeen, naturally, had more pressure and possession on the ball, but Washington’s runs in behind were preventing Aberdeen from pushing forward.
Ben Garuccio was also reintroduced to the side after nine months out late on, and the discipline and composure shown from the ten men in the last ten minutes was admirable. Content to play on the break, Washington and Henderson threatened on numerous occasions on the break, but the opening never come and the Jambos had to be content with a well-earned point.
Hearts: Pereira, Smith, Bozanic (Garuccio, 84'), Clare, Ikpeazu (Damour, 70'), Halkett, Dikamona, Irving, Henderson, Hickey, Meshino (Washington, 75'). Subs: Zlamal, Berra, Wighton, MacLean.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Logan, McKenna, Main (Wilson, 54'), Taylor, Ferguson, Gallagher, Ojo (Hedges, 84'), Campbell, Anderson, Vyner (McGinn, 45'). Subs: Cerny, Devlin, McLennan, McKenzie.
Referee: Alan Muir