Hearts were held to a draw by Ross County at the Global Energy Stadium this afternoon.
Despite dominating the match, the Jambos were left to rue their missed opportunities as the hosts came from behind to lead at the break before Hearts equalised to earn a point.
Liam Boyce gave Hearts the lead inside the opening ten minutes before Blair Spittal immediately levelled. Spittal then put County in front on the stroke of half-time, before Stephen Kingsley’s stunning free kick levelled the match in the second half.
Robbie Neilson made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Hibs in last week’s Edinburgh Derby. There were first starts for Barrie McKay and Taylor Moore, while Armand Gnanduillet made his first league start of the campaign up front.
County had the opening chance of a frantic first-half. Craig Gordon’s clearance landed at Ross Callachan’s foot, but the former Hearts man’s shot lacked power and Gordon saved on the line.
Moments later, Hearts took the lead. Gary Mackay-Steven dribbled his way past two players about 30 yards from goal, slipped a pass through for Boyce, and the striker hit a first-time left-footed effort into the net on the angle.
County equalised immediately, however. Hearts failed to deal with an attack, Callachan slipped a ball to Jordan White who laid it off for Spittal to shoot into the corner from the edge of the area.
The game was very open, and Hearts were next to threaten. Gnanduillet won a flick-on just beyond half-way, with McKay running onto the ball and racing in towards goal, but his shot was superbly blocked by a sliding challenge. Gnanduillet then had two chances himself soon after.
First, Boyce cushioned a header down at the edge of the box for the big striker, who controlled it on his chest and hit a left-footed half-volley from the edge of the box that Ash Maynard-Brewer saved superbly. The keeper was at it again when Boyce’s cross found Gnanduillet in the area but his downward header was blocked on the line.
County looked a threat on the break and Callachan nearly stole in at the back post after a cross from Reagan Charles-Cook, with the midfielder volleying just over the bar from close range. At the other end, Gnanduillet squared a pass inside the area for Mackay-Steven but he shanked his effort over the bar with his right foot.
In first-half stoppage time, County took the lead when Charles-Cook hit the byline and cut the ball back for Spittal, whose deflected shot was diverted past Gordon from inside the six-yard box.
The second half began at a slower tempo, which perhaps wasn’t surprising after the 100mph stuff in the opening period, but Hearts did get an equaliser just after the hour mark.
Following a tactical reshuffle which saw Cammy Devlin make his debut off the bench, Boyce was fouled on the edge of the area by Ben Paton who was booked. From the free kick, Stephen Kingsley curled a beauty over the wall into the top corner.
Moments later, Devlin won the ball in midfield and spread it wide to Moore on the right, with the defender sending a deep cross to the back post that Boyce headed just wide of the post. They came even closer with ten minutes remaining, when sub Jamie Walker got the break of the ball in the area and shot for goal but Maynard-Brewer got a strong hand to it to divert it away.
County had the final chance of the match. Joseph Hungbo shot for goal inside the area, his effort was cleared off the line by John Souttar and Jordan White blazed over the rebound as both sides were forced to settle for the point.
Ross County: Maynard-Brewer, Baldwin, Paton, Spittal (Robertson, 56'), Callachan (Watson, 83'), Iacovitti, Charles-Cook (Hungbo, 89'), Burroughs, Tillson, Paton, White. Subs: Laidlaw, Cancola, A. Samuel, D. Samuel.
Hearts: Gordon, Kingsley, Souttar, Baninigme, Woodburn (Walker, 65'), Boyce, Mackay-Steven (Devlin, 56'), Moore, McKay, Halkett, Gnanduillet. Subs: Stewart, Haring, McEneff, Halliday, Cochrane.
Referee: David Dickinson