Newly relegated Hearts hit Dundee for Six

The Scottish Championship got back underway on Friday night, with newly-relegated Hearts starting their promotion campaign off in the best fashion, as they smashed six past title rivals Dundee. Jamie Mcintosh reports.

When the SPFL Championship fixtures were announced at the end of July, this was the fixture that everyone was looking forward to. 

On the 15th April, almost six months ago to the day, Dundee changed their vote regarding an SPFL resolution, to a yes vote. This yes vote effectively relegated Hearts to the Championship. After Dundee’s vote was changed and the resolution subsequently passed, the dialogue that followed was incredible. 

To this day, six months on, we still don’t really know why Dundee voted yes and allowed rivals Dundee United promotion to the Scottish Premiership. It is likely that they were promised league reconstruction talks, however due to the 11-1 Premiership vote required to pass the motion of reconstruction, it was never really likely to happen.

The accusations that followed between Hearts owner Ann Budge, Dundee Chief John Nelms and frankly anybody else who fancied getting a word in, were remarkable. How fitting that these two sides got the new Championship season underway after all the drama that took place between them during the summer. 

As for matters on the pitch, these two sides are expected to be at the top end of the table at the end of the shortened 27-game season – meaning that this opening day clash was a good opportunity for either side to put out a strong statement to the rest of the league with a good performance. 

The main talking point before the game was that hat-trick hero Craig Wighton was dropped to the bench for the returning Northern Ireland international, Liam Boyce. As for the visitors, former Hearts trio Jack Hamilton, Jordan Mcghee and Osman Sow all started for the Dark Blues, alongside new signing Charlie Adam, as manager James McPake opted to start with three centre backs. 

After everything that happened during the summer, you would expect Hearts to come out the traps fast in this one and that’s exactly what happened. The hosts came close in the opening minutes in what was a frantic start, as Andy Irving crossed from the left for Josh Ginnelly, who could only side foot an effort wide.

It had been a long time since a ball had been kicked in the Scottish Championship, but we didn’t have to wait long for the first goal of the new season. It came for the hosts – the returning international Michael Smith retrieved an overhit cross and found Olly Lee, who laid it back to Smith who had continued his run into the box. He cut inside of Lee Ashcroft and slotted it past Jack Hamilton for the opening goal after just four minutes. 

The visitors first chance unsurprisingly saw Charlie Adam involved, as he tried his luck from distance, causing Craig Gordon to make his first save of the evening, denying the veteran midfielder of an equaliser. Shortly afterwards, a good save was drawn from Hamilton to Liam Boyce’s powerful effort, keeping the scoreline at 1-0.

Hearts were on top at this point and the inevitable second goal came after a poor corner was cleared at the near post. Ginnelly showed great control to get the ball under his spell, before cutting inside and firing a shot towards goal, which went skidding off the Tynecastle turf and into the bottom corner – a great goal from Hearts’ tricky winger, who doubled his side’s advantage after 25 minutes.

Dundee hadn’t really got going – however, Charlie Adam produced a magnificent individual goal to pull one back for his side a minute later and get his first goal for his boyhood club, weaving past three Hearts men before firing the ball across the goal into the top right corner.

Hearts have already had their fair share of penalties this season and they were awarded their fifth penalty in four games just ten minutes before the break, when Boyce’s shot struck the arm of the sliding Jordan Marshall. Boyce stepped up and sent Hamilton the wrong way to make it 3-1 to the hosts after 34 minutes. 

This game promised to be such a tight one on paper, however the hosts walked all over their opponents in the first half and they got their fourth goal in first half stoppage time. A beautifully curled free kick from full back Stephen Kingsley left Jack Hamilton with no chance. Kingsley’s first goal in maroon will be one to remember and it sent Hearts in with a 4-1 lead at half time. 

Dundee really struggled to cope with Hearts’ energy in the first half, while Hearts looked the sharper of the two sides by far and just looked a class above their opponents overall.

Dundee changed to a back four at the break, with ex Hibernian man Jordan Forster replaced by forward Jonathan Afolabi. 

With the action back underway, Sow won a free kick 25 yards from goal, which gave Adam another sight of goal early in the second half, but he curled his effort agonisingly wide. That was Sow’s last involvement of the night, as he was then replaced by ex St Mirren forward Danny Mullen.

Craig Gordon had another impressive showing in the Hearts goal, as he denied substitutes Afolabi and Mullen on the hour mark. He covered his near post smartly to deny Afolabi, before adjusting his feet well to stop a deflected Mullen effort.

Andy Irving went into the book for a late challenge on Graham Dorrans – the midfielder was possibly fortunate not to see a red brandished in his direction from referee David Munro.

Dundee got the goal that their second half play deserved when substitute Mullen sprung the Hearts offside trap and finished calmly past Gordon from close range to cut the deficit to two.

Hearts responded well and Walker produced a fine save from Hamilton, who kept his side in the game by palming Walker’s close-range header over the bar. From the resulting corner, Jordan Roberts headed over from close range when he should have at least hit the target.

Dundee were creating the better chances in the opening 25 minutes of the second half and Hearts manager Robbie Neilson saw this as the perfect time to introduce Austrian midfielder, Peter Haring.

Hearts didn’t perform anywhere near their first half standard and Dundee continued to be on top as the game entered the final ten minutes. Despite this, Hearts did manage to kill off Dundee’s chances with six minutes to play, as full back Kingsley doubled his tally for the evening. Roberts teed him up on the edge of the box and his shot arrowed into the far corner to make it 5-2. 

The icing on the cake came in the final minute of normal time when substitute Andy Halliday made it six. Walker drove forward and played in the ex-Rangers man on the left. He walked on to the ball and drove it powerfully across goal and into the far corner, the eighth goal of the evening and another impressive finish.

Robbie Neilson couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season from his side, but insists they can’t afford to let the level of performance drop:

“I was really pleased with the start. We spoke about being on the front foot early and pressing. We knew Dundee hadn’t played as many games as us and I thought we could catch them cold and I think we did that by getting a couple of early goals.

“There’s only 26 games left now, so I thought it was important we started the season well and scored a few goals and try to build some confidence for going forward and I think we managed to do that tonight”. 

A defeated looking James McPake admitted his side weren’t able to handle Hearts’ fast start to the game and revealed he wasn’t able to take any positives from the game:

“We started the game really poorly, we continued that way, we weren’t at the races and we got what we deserved out the game, which was nothing. It was a really poor performance.

“On that performance, there was a massive gulf in class, not just with Hearts. If we play like that against any team in this league, there’ll be a massive gulf in class”. 

Hearts will travel to Arbroath next Friday, while Dundee will look to get their first points on the board when they host Morton next Saturday.

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