Heart of Midlothian 2-1 Ross County
Sunday 26th December 2021, KO 15:00 | cinch Premiership | Tynecastle Park
Hearts wrapped up the calendar year with a hard-fought three points at home to Ross County in front of an empty Tynecastle Park.
First half goals from Michael Smith and Ben Woodburn had Hearts cruising at the break, but a disjointed second half saw County score through Jordan White, though Hearts saw time out to win the match.
There were three changes to the side that won at Dens Park last week. In came Michael Smith, Alex Cochrane and Aaron McEneff in place of Cammy Devlin, Gary Mackay-Steven and Stephen Kingsley.
And it was the first of those changes that got Hearts off to the perfect start inside four minutes.
Ben Woodburn did superbly to beat his marker on the edge of the area, he squared for McEneff whose first time shot was saved by Ross Laidlaw but Smith arrived first to bury the rebound.
It was almost two a few minutes later. Woodburn flicked the ball on for Barrie McKay, who raced into the area and crossed for McEneff but his effort was diverted wide by Laidlaw.
McKay was threatening again and came close to opening his Hearts account on 12 minutes when McEneff fed him 25 yards out but his shot spun off a defender and just wide.
Midway through the half, McEneff was next to threaten. Peter Haring found the midfielder with a raking ball over the Ross County defence but he dragged his shot wide.
It should have been two on the half hour. Smith passed inside to McKay and continued running while McKay passed to McEneff who reversed a pass for Smith but he shanked an effort wide.
Moments later, it was even closer. Woodburn’s corner was poorly dealt with by the County defence but John Souttar smashed a shot off the bar from inside the area.
It was finally two on 42 minutes after a superb bit of play. Haring won the ball deep in the Hearts half and pinged a superb pass which Woodburn killed stone dead, he ran at the defence with McKay and McEneff making decoy runs either side and his shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and trickled in to give the Welshman a well deserved goal.
Just before the break, Souttar was denied again. Woodburn was fouled on the left wing, and McKay’s pinpoint cross was nodded goalwards by Souttar but the ball bounced back off the post and into the grateful hands of Laidlaw.
The beginning of the second half was disrupted by an injury to Craig Halkett, with the centre back having to be replaced by Kingsley.
The visitors had their first meaningful sight of goal on the hour when Dominic Samuel broke from deep and laid off Joseph Hungbo, but his shot was comfortably held by Craig Gordon.
At the other end, Woodburn did superbly to get on to a Smith ball from midfield and cut into the area before sinking a cross for Smith who had continued his run, but the header went wide.
Jamie Walker then came off the bench and was soon involved. Haring’s ball over the top found him on the right flank, he drove at goal and brought Laidlaw into action with a good save.
A minute later, Walker closed down a clearance and squared for Andy Halliday, with the ball being cleared off him and trickling just past the post.
County then got themselves back in the game after a counter attack when Hungbo squared for Jordan White who converted via the post.
Immediately it was almost three for Hearts when Halliday broke down the left and crossed for Haring but the Austrian headed wide from inside the area.
Hearts began to be pressed back in the latter stages and a waltzing run by Harry Clarke drew a good save from Gordon as the game entered six minutes of stoppage time.
In the 94th minute, a Blair Spittal header was nodded down to White who somehow contrived to shoot wide from two yards out, as Hearts managed to hang on to earn the win.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Souttar, Haring, McEneff (Walker, 55'), Woodburn (Mackay-Steven, 77'), Moore, Halliday, Cochrane, McKay, Halkett (Kingsley, 50'). Subs: McFarlane, Gnanduillet, Logan.
Ross County: Laidlaw, Randall, Vokins, Cancola (Burroughs, 46'), Baldwin, Spittal, D. Samuel (A. Samuel, 83'), Charles-Cook, Clarke, Hungbo, White. Subs: Munro, Paton, Donaldson.
Referee: David Munro