Robbie Neilson hailed his side’s mental fortitude as they recovered from a bruising 45 minutes at Dens Park to turn the match around and come out victorious.
Kane Hemmings opened the scoring for Dundee after five minutes, and the Dees could have been out of sight by half-time were it not for the inspired goalkeeping of Neil Alexander. A tactical reshuffle saw a Hearts reborn in the second half, as Juanma’s superb double put Hearts top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
After the match, the head coach revealed frank words were exchanged at the interval as the players were informed of the standards expected of them.
“We spoke as a group at half-time,” explained Robbie. “It’s an open dressing room, anyone is free to speak as they wish, and we agreed as a team that it wasn’t an acceptable performance, they weren’t at it.
“It’s over ten years since we’d last won here, so we knew how tough it would be. It took until half-time for us to find our feet, change the shape and tell the players what was expected of them.
“This is a game of fine margins,” he continued. “If Dundee take their other chances, they’re out of sight, but they didn’t, and we stayed in the game long enough to grab hold of it and not let go. We competed better in the second half and dominated.”
Neilson sprung a tactical surprise as he named skipper Alim Ozturk as a holding midfielder, the Turk a centre-half by trade. Admitting that while on this occasion it may not have worked out, it was part of a tactical plan designed to combat Dundee’s impressive forward line before plans were dashed due to a surprise injury to a Dundee key player.
“We’ve watched a lot of Dundee’s games from pre-season and then last week. They like to play Rory Loy, Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart as a three, so we prepared for that all week with Alim in the holding role to cover the zone in front of defence, dropping back when needed.
“Paul Hartley told me when we got here that Loy was out injured, and they’d gone to two up top, which basically ruined the week of work we’d put in! Everyone settled in the second half, into more familiar positions.”
Finally, Robbie briefed supporters on the status of Juwon Oshaniwa, who was substituted having gone down in the second half after a typical introduction to Scottish football, disclosing that the Nigerian star was simply cramping up due to a lack of match fitness.
Neilson also reserved plaudits for Spanish sensation Juanma, who fired himself to the league’s top goalscorer position with a second half double, one from the spot after former Hibs captain James McPake handled the ball, followed up by a glorious solo effort to seal the win.
“Juwon has only trained for a few days, and he’s not played since May so he was cramping up a bit, nothing more. I thought he did really well in the circumstances. He’s tenacious and aggressive, and he’s a winner, he’s the kind of player we want here.
“Juanma’s done what we expected him to do so far. We knew he was strong, physical and quick, with technique in abundance and the ability to finish. If he can stay fit for us, he’ll be hugely important in us having a successful season.”