Hearts recorded an impressive 3-0 win over Ross County in Dingwall on Wednesday night.
The Jambos left the highlands with all three points thanks to a Jamie Walker goal and an Abiola Dauda brace.
Robbie Neilson made five changes from the team that drew with Hibs three days previously. John Souttar and Don Cowie were handed their first starts, while Juwon Oshaniwa, Walker and Juanma all came in, out went Alim Ozturk, Prince Buaben, Blazej Augustyn, Gavin Reilly and Abiola Dauda.
Hearts nearly go off to the best possible start, going close after only 20 seconds. Juanma showed great strength to win possession and pass across the edge of the box, Arnaud Djoum got there first to prod to Sam Nicholson, but his shot flew wide of Scott Fox’s left-hand post.
Nicholson was in the mix again minutes later. Walker found the winger, who cut inside and created space for himself before hammering over the bar from 20 yards.
The hosts went close in 13 minutes with a set piece, following Cowie’s foul 25-yards out. Ian McShane struck the dead ball wide of the post, but Neil Alexander looked to have it covered all the way.
Ross County produced the best chance of the half so far in the 17th minute when Jackson Irvine connected with McShane’s corner, but he bulleted his header inches over the bar.
Hearts had Souttar to thank for keeping the scores level after 32 minutes. David Goodwillie burst into the box and twisted away from Jordan McGhee before placing a high shot on target, but Souttar popped up to head over his own bar.
The woodwork came to Hearts’ rescue early in the second half. Liam Boyce was played in on the left and he smacked the ball off the crossbar from the edge of the box.
Boyce was involved again moments later, nodding on target after connecting with a looping ball to the back door, but Alexander pounced to his left to make the save.
Hearts then took the lead in bizarre fashion. Cowie’s corner from the left was attacked by Jackson Irvine, but his header ricocheted off of Walker’s back and the ball spun beyond Fox and into the back of the net.
Ross County were dangerous on the attack, with Michael Gardyne crossing for substitute Alex Schalk, but Alexander got down well to save his half-volley at the near post.
The Jambos had a strong penalty claim turned down in the 76th minute when Nicholson went on a mazy run and hit the deck inside the box after a challenge from a home defender, but referee Steven McLean said no and booked the winger for his troubles.
Boyce then flashed an effort across the face of goal for County, before substitute Dario Zanatta was bundled over in the box but again, no penalty.
With four minutes left, Hearts sealed the win through substitute Dauda. He latched on to a long ball and skipped away from his man, into the box before calmly placing the ball around Fox and into the bottom corner of the net.
Minutes later it was 3-0. Zanatta showed delightful skill to spin away from his man inside his own half and drive into the opposition box before knocking back to Dauda, who hit a first-time shot high into the top corner.
An impressive victory against a good Ross County side, and attentions now turn to Saturday’s Ladbrokes Premiership match at home to Partick Thistle.
Ross County: Fox, Gardyne, McShane, M. Woods, Goodwillie (Schalk, 58'), Foster, Davies, Boyce, Fraser, Irvine (Franks, 78'), Quinn. Subs: G. Woods, Murdoch, Graham, Robertson, Reckford.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Souttar, McGhee (L. Smith, 81'), Oshaniwa, Cowie, Djoum (Dauda, 61'), Pallardo, Nicholson, Walker (Zanatta, 74'), Juanma. Subs: Hamilton, Beith, Buchanan, Reilly.
Referee: Steven McLean
Top Man: John Souttar