It was a case of the old and the new at BT Murrayfield today as Hearts played their first match at the home of Scottish Rugby in ten years, while newly appointed manager Craig Levein took charge of the Jambos for the first time in almost 13 years in front of 24,248 fans - the biggest home league crowd since January 1994.
The home side made four changes from former interim head coach Jon Daly’s side that lost out a fortnight ago to Motherwell at Fir Park. Following his heroics with Northern Ireland in the World Cup qualifiers, Aaron Hughes made his return to the starting line-up for the first time since the opening day defeat to Celtic.
With Michael Smith missing out due to illness, the Jambos switched to a 3-5-1-1 formation. Connor Randall took up the right wing-back berth that he was familiar with from his games in the Liverpool first team, while new signings Jon McLaughlin and Ross Callachan slotted into goals and the centre of midfield respectively.
Isma Goncalves started up front in place of Kyle Lafferty, supported by Jamie Walker, while there were places on the bench for deadline day acquisition David Milinkovic and hot prospects Daniel Baur and Harry Cochrane.
Aberdeen arrived in the capital on the back of four league wins on the bounce, as they sought to return to the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership, their squad having been boosted over the summer with the arrival of big-money signings in the form of Stevie May, Greg Stewart and Gary Mackay-Steven, as well as the return of Celtic starlet Ryan Christie on loan.
The Dons had a great chance to open the scoring on two minutes, when May burst through the Hearts defence and lobbed McLaughlin, but Christophe Berra was able to put Adam Rooney off, and the Irish striker headed wide.
Hearts then had a penalty claim turned down, as Randall cut inside from the right flank and played the ball through to Walker. There was a tangle of legs, and Walker went down but referee Craig Thomson waved away the appeals.
The visitors came close once more when Christie was brought down on the edge of the box by Don Cowie. The Aberdeen forward’s free-kick effort rebounded back to Dominic Ball, but the midfielder’s effort was shanked wide.
The Jambos had their first shot on target on the half-hour. Walker’s free-kick from the edge of the box was palmed away by Joe Lewis, and then Isma broke through the middle and fired a low shot towards goal that was superbly tipped wide by the Aberdeen stopper.
Down the other end, an Aberdeen counter saw May play in Christie on the angle, and his low drive slid just past McLaughlin’s left-hand post. Walker was then denied again by a superb save from Lewis after Randall played him in on the edge of the box. The winger’s lobbed effort looked in all the way but the keeper somehow tipped it over the bar.
McLaughlin then had to look sharp again when Scott Wright’s deep cross found Shay Logan at the back post. The Aberdeen full-back cut back onto his foot, but the Hearts keeper stopped his effort with his legs and the rebound went to safety.
After the break, Callachan came agonisingly close to a dream debut. Berra’s cross was chested down by Isma into Callachan’s path, and the midfielder’s left-foot effort was brilliantly saved by Lewis. Moments later, Walker’s low-drive was tipped wide by the keeper.
It was even closer on 63 minutes. Walker pounced on a loose ball in the middle of the park, played the ball to Isma and the striker - using Callachan’s run as a decoy - cut inside and hammered a shot off Lewis’ crossbar.
The second half had been wave after wave of attacks from Hearts as Levein introduced Lafferty and Milinkovic in place of the tiring Isma and Walker, and Lafferty had the game’s best chance when Callachan’s cut-back fell to the Northern Irish attacker, but he dwelled on the ball and Logan cleared.
The game went from end to end as time ticked down, but neither side could break the deadlock before the allotted time had elapsed. Hearts can count themselves unlucky not to win this game, as after a difficult first half-hour, they dominated an Aberdeen side that had a 100% record going into this game.
A good start for Craig Levein in his second spell in charge, and a cause for optimism for the massive crowd at BT Murrayfield as Hearts look ahead to the weeks and months to come.
Hearts: McLaughlin, Souttar, Hughes, Berra, Grzelak, Randall, Cowie, Callachan, Walker (Milinkovic, 76'), Djoum, Isma (Lafferty, 64'). Subs: Hamilton, Smith-Brown, Stockton, Baur, Cochrane.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Logan, Shinnie, Considine, O'Connor, McLean, Rooney (Maynard, 69'), Wright (Mackay-Steven, 69'), Ball (Reynolds, 80'), Christie, May. Subs: Rogers, Stewart, Arnason, Tansey.
Ref: Craig Thomson