Hearts earned a deserved 2-0 victory over Dundee United at Tannadice this afternoon.
A Liam Boyce penalty rebound in first-half stoppage time gave the Jambos the lead going in at the break after dominating the first 45, before Armand Gnanduillet’s 90th minute goal sealed the points.
Robbie Neilson made one change to the side that drew with Aberdeen last week, as Ben Woodburn came into the starting XI for his Hearts debut in place of Josh Ginnelly, who moved to the bench. Also among the substitutes were Taylor Moore, after signing yesterday from Bristol City.
Woodburn and Gary Mackay-Steven were looking sharp down the wings in the early stages, with Woodburn digging out a superb deep cross from his berth on the right that just evaded Boyce, but Peter Haring got the ball wide to Andy Halliday whose cross was cleared.
Hearts had the first real chance of the match on 19 minutes, when a well-worked set piece routine saw Mackay-Steven play the ball out to Michael Smith on the edge of the area. He dinked a ball to the back post for Craig Halkett, who nodded down for John Souttar, but he could only shoot over under pressure.
The Jambos continued to dominate proceedings, and could have been ahead on the half hour when Smith found Boyce in the area, and he teed up Haring at the edge of the area, but the Austrian blazed over from 18 yards.
Craig Gordon had been a virtual spectator up until this point, but he was called into action in Dundee United’s first attack of note when Jamie Robson found space in the area, the full-back’s stinging left-footed drive palmed away by Scotland’s number one.
The Jambos were ruing their luck when Souttar’s sumptuous ball into the area landed right at Haring, who had ghosted into the area between the two centre-halves, but he could only head wide with the goal gaping.
However, the goal did arrive with the last kick of the ball in the first half. Halliday bent a lovely pass round Ryan Edwards in the United defence for Mackay-Steven, who got the break of the ball and was tripped in the area by the scrambling defender. Trevor Carson did produce a save from Boyce’s penalty, but the striker got to the rebound first and tapped into an empty net to give Hearts a deserved lead.
At first, it seemed like the momentum was going the same way in the second half as a Boyce cross just evaded Haring who’d broken into the area again, before a slight lull in the match. Woodburn was then replaced by Ginnelly.
Gino was involved immediately when he started tormenting Robson on the right wing, firing numerous balls across the box. But United came into the game after a slight positional change for Hearts, changing to a back four.
From an Ian Harkes corner, Edwards connected with a bullet header and Gordon produced a sensational save to tip the ball over. A moment later, he pushed a Harkes effort away from outside the area. Then sub Calum Butcher tried his luck from outside the area as United upped the pressure, but again Gordon tipped his shot away.
With five minutes left, Gordon produced his best moment of the match. Beni Baningime tripped Chris Mochrie on the edge of the area, with United skipper Charlie Mulgrew stepping up to bend a pinpoint shot around the wall that was brilliantly turned around the post with a fingertip save.
In stoppage time, Hearts hit United with a classic sucker punch. Smith did brilliantly to bring the ball out of defence and take it up the park. Robson intercepted but Ginnelly nicked it off him, drove at goal and squared for sub Gnanduillet to bury the ball into the corner to put a seal on an impressive team performance as Hearts head into the international break joint-top of the cinch Premiership.
Dundee United: Carson, L. Smith, Sporle (Watson, 69'), Mulgrew, McNulty, Clark (Harkes, 53'), Edwards, Robson, Levitt (Butcher, 53'), Mochrie, Fuchs. Subs: Newman, Connolly, Reynolds, Hoti.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Souttar, Haring, Baningime, Woodburn (Ginnelly, 61'), Boyce, Mackay-Steven (Gnanduilet, 68'), Halliday (Moore, 61'), Cochrane, Halkett. Subs: Stewart, Walker, McEneff, Pollock.