Hearts got their Betfred Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 2-1 victory at Cove Rangers.
Olly Lee’s first-half opener was complimented by Steven MacLean’s close range strike near the hour mark, but a tense finish was set up when Paul McManus pulled one back for the hosts late on.
Craig Levein handed competitive debuts to seven of his summer signings; Zdenek Zlamal, Peter Haring, Bobby Burns, Jake Mulraney, Oliver Bozanic, Lee and MacLean.
Hearts nearly took the lead inside three minutes. Callumn Morrison tore down the right before moving the ball inside to Burns, who fed Mulraney out on the left. He beat his man for pace before crossing low into the box but Burns’ shot was deflected behind, missing the target by a matter of yards.
The Jambos did make the breakthrough after 11 minutes. Haring picked up possession and knocked it forward for Lee to play a neat one-two with Lafferty, before the Englishman drilled low from 18-yards and into Stuart McKenzie’s bottom right corner.
Hearts went close again on 21 minutes. John Souttar’s long-ball forward found the run of Lafferty, who sent the ball across the box for Mulraney to strike but his effort flew wide of the target.
The ball was in the back of the net on half an hour but Hearts were denied a second by the linesman’s flag. A slick passing move saw Lafferty threaded through and his stab at goal was saved by McKenzie but only into the path of MacLean, who fired home from the edge of the six-yard box, but the assistant referee flagged for offside.
Hearts were ramping up the pressure by this point and were camped out in the Cove half. After MacLean was tripped from behind, Bozanic stepped up to curl a set piece inches wide of the target from 25-yards out.
MacLean was denied by McKenzie with two minutes of the half remaining. Mulraney’s cross into the box was flicked on by Lafferty and despite shouts of handball against a home defender, the ball fell to the feet of MacLean but his effort was blocked by the Cove ‘keeper.
There as still time for a goal-line clearance to save Cove’s blushes after McKenzie failed to clear Morrison’s cross but John Souttar’s looping header was bundled away from the line by Darryn Kelly.
Hearts came flying out the traps in the second-half and almost doubled their lead. Mulraney flew down the left and into the box before seeing his low shot saved by McKenzie but only as far as Bozanic, who found the target but was denied by Ryan Strachan on the line.
A long-range left-foot rocket from Morrison wasn’t far away soon after as the men in maroon continued the search for a second goal.
The search ended on 57 minutes. Bozanic’s curling corner was headed goalwards by Haring and MacLean lunged into the six-yard box to stab the ball into the back of the net.
It should’ve been 3-0 three minutes later. A lovely flowing move saw MacLean thread Lee clean through and he rounded the ‘keeper but with the goal at his mercy, could only hit the post.
Cove pulled one back in the 75th minute. Park was afforded space down the left to get into the box before cutting back for the unmarked McManus to tap into an empty net.
That ensured a tense finish but the Jambos saw it out to take all three points and get the competitive campaign off to a successful start.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, C. Milne (Redford, 76'), H. Milne, Strachan, Yule, Kelly, Park, Scully, Megginson, McManus, Masson (Smith, 80'). Subs: Watson, Gray, Emmett, McCafferty.
Hearts: Zlamal, Souttar, Haring, Berra, Morrison, Burns, Lee (Irving, 64'), Bozanic, Mulraney (Ikpeazu, 80'), MacLean (M. Smith, 64'), Lafferty. Subs: Silva, Hughes, Edwards, Keena.
Referee: Nick Walsh