Hearts earned their second Premier Sports Cup victory in four days with a comfortable 3-0 win over Cove Rangers at a noisy Tynecastle Park.
For the first time in 494 days, Tynecastle Park was host to Heart of Midlothian supporters, with 2000 fans welcomed back to Gorgie following the easing of Scottish Government restrictions.
Robbie Neilson made two changes to the side that were victorious against Peterhead on Saturday, both in the heart of midfield, with Aaron McEneff and Peter Haring dropping to the bench. They were replaced by Andy Halliday and, making his first senior start, Finlay Pollock, the 17-year-old getting the nod after an impressive pre-season.
The visitors had the opening chance of the game. Iain Vigurs won the ball in midfield and slid a pass through for Leighton McIntosh, that was helped via a Hearts deflection. McIntosh chipped Craig Gordon, but the effort lacked pace or power and Michael Smith was able to clear it off the line in time.
That seemed to wake Hearts up, and they made Cove pay for the missed opportunity two minutes later. John Souttar pinged a ball from right to left for Alex Cochrane, with the full back laying the ball to Josh Ginnelly, who squared for Halliday 25 yards out, and his low daisy cutter nestled in the side netting, to give the Hearts fans in attendance their first goal since March 2020.
Hearts’ 3-4-3 formation was causing Cove no end of bother, with the rampaging Smith impressing early on, as was young Pollock, who fashioned the next chance for himself. He won the ball in midfield and drove at goal, playing a slightly overhit pass to Ginnelly, who returned the ball, with Pollock turning and shooting but being denied by the woodwork.
On the half-hour, Hearts had two chances in quick succession. Liam Boyce held up a Halliday pass well, slipped the ball through for Smith who cut back to Boyce and his goalbound shot deflected over. From the corner, the ball was cleared back to Halliday who passed forward to Boyce, with the striker stepping over the ball to play Smith in, but Kyle Gourlay made a good save to deny him.
Right on half-time, Hearts got the second goal their play deserved. After a sustained period of pressure, Ginnelly laid the ball back to Smith who crossed the ball in to the area, with Gourlay only able to clear straight to Boyce who finished into an empty net.
Into the second half, and Gary Mackay-Steven had a huge chance to add to the lead. The ball broke to the forward in the area but he snatched at his chance and blazed it over from 6 yards. However, he was determined to make up for that.
Mackay-Steven picked the pocket of Scott Ross on the edge of the area following a short goal kick, steadied himself and buried a shot from the edge of the area, managing to score the more difficult chance in style.
Hearts then introduced Peter Haring and Aaron McEneff to the game, switching formation too, while maintaining control. The next chance came to Ginnelly, with Smith finding him after a ball over the top. Ginnelly took the defender out of play with his first touch, but his shot was straight at Gourlay and cleared.
Hearts then brought on two more academy graduates, with Connor Smith replacing Halliday and Aidan Denholm making his first-team debut, replacing Mackay-Steven. The younger Smith had a sight of goal on 82 minutes when Souttar found him with a lovely cross-field pass, he cut inside and curled a shot at goal that went just wide.
The final chances of the match fell to McEneff and Boyce. Firstly, Boyce held the ball up superbly yet again up front and played in McEneff, who drew a save from Gourlay at the front post. Then, Boyce flicked the ball forward for sub Euan Henderson, who took the ball into the area and played it back to Boyce but again, Gourlay was equal to the task, with Hearts having to settle for just the three goals on the night.
Hearts: Gordon, M. Smith, Kingsley (Haring, 58'), Souttar, Boyce, Mackay-Steven (Denholm, 77'), Halliday (C. Smith, 77'), Cochrane, Halkett, Ginnelly (Henderson, 71'), Pollock (McEneff, 58'). Subs: Stewart, Roberts, Popescu, Damour.
Cove Rangers: Gourlay, Neill, Milne (Thomas, 77'), Scully (McAllister, 63'), Ross (Watson, 60'), Yule, Megginson, McIntosh, Draper, Vigurs, Fyvie. Subs: McKenzie.
Referee: Colin Steven