Hearts face Dundee United tomorrow night for the first time in nearly three-and-a-half years.
The two sides meet each other in the opening match of this season’s Betfred Cup group stage, and you have to go back even further – 43 months, to be precise – to when they last squared off in Gorgie.
It was the final match of 2015, played under the Tynecastle floodlights…
Hearts v Dundee United
Wednesday, 30th December 2015
Fortunes couldn’t have been anymore contrasting heading into this league match.
Hearts – in their first season back in the top flight – were challenging at the summit of the table and sitting comfortably in third.
United, however, were marooned (pardon the pun) at the bottom, ten points off of 11th place.
Mixu Paatelainen was ten-weeks into his reign as manager, following the dismissal of Jackie McNamara. Paatelainen’s first game in charge back in October was, ironically, against Hearts at Tannadice, which the Jambos won 1-0.
Both sides came into the match off the back of winless runs. Hearts had gone five without victory, though were on a high after a morale-boosting 2-2 draw with Celtic three days previously, which saw Osman Sow score a spectacular 90th minute equaliser.
Utd’s barren run had lasted six games, five of which were defeats, though they too headed into this match off the back of a 2-2 draw, having secured a point in the Highlands against Inverness CT.
Hearts: Alexander, McGhee, Ozturk, Rossi, Oshaniwa, Nicholson, Buaben, Gomis, King, Sow, Reilly. Subs: Hamilton, Augustyn, Pallardo, Djoum, Swanson, Buchanan, Zanatta.
Dundee United: Szromnik, Durnan, Morris, Gunning. McGowan, Demel, Rankin, Dixon, Erksine, Fraser, Mckay. Subs: Zwick, Dillon, Souttar, Murray, Spittal, Spark, Bodul.
What unfolded was a highly dramatic match, with plenty of goals and even a red card.
The boys in maroon got off to the worst possible start, conceding a penalty in the first minute when Juwon Oshaniwa slid in and fouled Scott Fraser inside the box. Billy McKay stepped up and made no mistake, sending Neil Alexander the wrong way.
Utd’s Michal Szromnik was called into action in the tenth minute to deny Sam Nicholson. Billy King tore down the right to get on the end of Prince Buaben’s diagonal ball, and he skinned his man before floating it to the back post for Nicholson to ghost in and head on target, but the Utd ‘keeper made a strong block before the danger was cleared.
Nicholson’s late runs were causing the visitors problems as he went close again minutes later. Gavin Reilly sprung the offside trap to knock a ball long to the back door, but Nicholson couldn’t wrap his foot around it as he slid in and knocked the ball wide.
Hearts were back on level terms after 17 minutes. King’s corner from the right was flicked on by Utd defender Mark Durnan, into the path of Reilly on the six-yard box, and he spun and slammed beyond Szromnik and into the net.
Reilly was in the thick of it, going close minutes later. McGhee had time to take ball down before sending over a looping cross, which Reilly beat his man to at the edge of the box, and his header sailed inches wide of Szromnik’s left-hand post.
The visitors looked dangerous on the counter attack, with Fraser sending Chris Erskine free down the left and he pulled off a low drive only to be denied by Alexander.
By 25 minutes it was 2-1 Hearts. The ball broke to Buaben 25-yards out and he drove straight at Szromnik, but the Utd keeper could only push the ball into the corner of the net. A goalkeeping error but one that Hearts would gladly take.
Bang on the half-hour mark, it was 3-1. Billy King spun away from his man inside the box and was scythed down, which gave Sow the chance from spot, and he slotted low into the ‘keeper’s bottom left corner.
Dundee United pulled a goal back just before half time. Fraser swung a free-kick in 25-yards out which flew past a clutch of bodies and snuck into the corner of the net.
The drama continued before the half was out, with Mark Durnan receiving his marching orders for a last man foul on Reilly at the edge of the area. From the resultant set piece, Ozturk could only blast into the wall.
Half Time: Hearts 3-2 Dundee United
Arnaud Djoum was introduced at half-time and made an instant impact, stinging the palms of Szromnik with a long distance shot, which the Utd ‘keeper did well to beat away.
Reilly was continuing to pose problems for Utd, forcing a smart save from Szromnik with a shot from outside the box. Moments later he should’ve grabbed his second of the game when he got on the end of King’s defence-splitting pass, but he stretched while shooting and missed the target from eight yards.
Hearts continued to press, searching for the killer fourth goal. Djoum released Sow down the left but he could only hit the side netting from the edge of the six-yard box.
King was again denied by the Utd ‘keeper, breaking free down the left and cutting inside before pulling the trigger, but Szromnik made a great block and the loose ball was punted clear.
Nicholson was next to try his luck after Djoum was stopped in his tracks at the edge of the box, lashing the ball from 20-yards but he couldn’t find the target.
McGhee nearly wrapped up the points with five minutes remaining when he got on the end of King’s cross inside the six-yard box, but again Szromnik stood firm to makes the save when the goal was at the full-back’s mercy.
Full Time: Hearts 3-2 Dundee United
The win consolidated the Jambos’ position in third and closed the gap on the top two – Celtic and Aberdeen – to seven points. While a sustained title challenge was beyond Robbie Neilson’s side, third place was clinched along with a return to European football.
For United, things didn’t get much better. Sporadic wins here and there gave the Terrors some hope of catching Kilmarnock but on May 2nd they were relegated after suffering a 2-1 defeat at Dens Park, with a certain Craig Wighton bagging a 92nd minute winner. Two days later, Paatelainen was relieved of his duties.
To watch full extended highlights of this game on HeartsTV, click here.