Sizzling first half hat-trick enough to see off The Smokies

Steven Naismith grabbed all the headlines with a six-minute first half hat-trick, as Hearts handily defeated Arbroath at Tynecastle on Tuesday night. Jamie Mcintosh reports.

Steven Naismith’s first-half hat-trick was more than enough for Hearts to see off Arbroath at Tynecastle. Photo Credit – Jamie Mcintosh

Pre-Match

As far as home bankers go for your midweek coupon, this appeared to be as crystal clear as they come. Before this game, Hearts were averaging 3.25 goals per game, which is actually the highest in all four SPFL divisions. Tonight’s visitors to Tynecastle, Arbroath, on the other hand are averaging 0.44 goals a game which – you guessed it – is the lowest in all four divisions. 

Hearts came into this game after a demolition job in the second half against Ayr United on Saturday. Meanwhile, The Smokies were recovering from a stoppage time defeat to Hearts’ closest rivals in the Championship this season, Dunfermline. 

Arbroath were unlucky not to beat Hearts when the sides met at Gayfield in October – Craig Wighton was the difference between the sides that night and after scoring twice off the bench on Saturday, manager Robbie Neilson rewarded the striker with a start. Skipper Steven Naismith also returned to the starting XI, meaning that both Elliot Frear and Jordan Roberts missed out. Furthermore, Peter Haring returned to the team – Stephen Kingsley hadn’t recovered from a knock he picked up during Saturday’s victory, so Andy Halliday filled in a left back while Haring took the former Rangers man’s place in midfield.

As for the visitors, they made two changes to the side that lost at East End Park, with the experienced pairing of Gavin Swankie and Kris Doolan replacing Jordan Hilson and Michael McKenna. 

The Match Itself

As already mentioned, goals had been hard to come by for the visitors this season, but they had an early chance in the capital when a deep free kick was headed over by Colin Hamilton at the back post after just four minutes.

Hearts’ first chance fell to Liam Boyce – the striker sprung the offside trap before volleying wide of the far post. The subsequent goal-kick saw referee Nick Walsh have a word with Arbroath keeper Derek Gaston regarding the amount of time he was taking, after just 15 minutes.

Hearts were then forced into an early change, with Liam Boyce being forced off with a hamstring injury – he was replaced by Jamie Walker. 

Hearts took the lead on the half hour mark – it was against the run of play, but what a lovely move it was. Haring picked out substitute Walker, who had managed to get in behind Hamilton. The winger simply squared it for Naismith, who tapped home for his second goal of the season. It was the best piece of football Hearts had created so far and having looked fairly solid throughout the half, The Smokies were sliced open.

Just two minutes later, Naismith got his and Hearts’ second of the game and this time, it was a bit more fortuitous. Michael Smith’s shot was deflected straight to Naismith who was unmarked and headed home from six yards. The majority of the Arbroath players simultaneously turned to look for a flag which wasn’t forthcoming and out of nothing, Hearts were now 2-0 up. 

With ten minutes to go until half time, the visitors’ fate was sealed – a corner off the training ground picked out Andy Irving on the edge of the box and his subsequent effort was blasted straight at the outstretched arm of Hamilton and Nick Walsh showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Naismith stepped up and completed a six minute first half hat-trick to seal the points for the hosts before the break. 

Wighton came into this game high on confidence after making the difference against Ayr on Saturday, and could have made it 4-0 after 38 minutes when Andy Halliday sent a cross towards the striker at the back post, but his downward header went just wide of the mark. It was at this point that Arbroath manager Dick Campbell chose to leave his seat in the stand and make his way to the dugout – only moments later Nick Walsh booked The Smokies gaffer for what can only be described as some untoward comments. 

Arbroath should’ve pulled a goal back on the stroke of half time. After a corner caused chaos in the Hearts box, Kris Doolan was denied at point blank range by the long arms of Craig Gordon, before Hearts scrambled it away. 

Nick Walsh sounded his whistle minutes later to bring to an end a rather bizarre first half. The reason I say bizarre is because Arbroath didn’t really do much wrong, yet they found themselves three down at the break against a side who tend to not take their foot off the gas with regards to scoring goals. It seemed as though damage limitation would be the most sensible plan for Dick Campbell to give his players in the dressing rooms at the interval. 

Whatever he said during the break, it had the desired effect, as Arbroath pulled a goal back just two minutes into the second half, when a freekick wasn’t properly dealt with by Andy Irving and Kris Doolan picked up the loose ball and found the top corner beautifully to give the visitors hope.

Wighton had his second opportunity to find the net on the hour mark after being slipped through by Olly Lee – the striker tried to lob Derek Gaston, but the keeper read it well, stayed big and thwarted him. 

Christophe Berra was replaced by Elliott Frear with 20 minutes to play after the defender suffered a nasty looking head knock – Robbie Neilson revealed after the match that this was merely precautionary, and Berra will be fine to play on Saturday. 

The second half wasn’t pretty viewing and despite being fairly uninspiring, Hearts comfortably cruised to another three points thanks to Naismith’s first half hat-trick. 

Despite the convincing result, Hearts will need to improve before their trip to Den’s Park on Saturday where they take on a Dundee side who will be hungry for revenge after being thumped 6-2 by Hearts on the opening day of the season.

Post-Match Comments

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was full of praise for his captain Steven Naismith after the match but recognised his side didn’t set the world alight with their performance:

“I don’t think they’ll be making DVD’s about that match! We didn’t play that well, but we were never really in any danger during the game I thought. I’m delighted for Naisy – he’s had a frustrating time this season, with wee niggles at the start of the season, but I’m sure he’ll kick on now and I know he’s going to be a huge player for us.” 

Naismith also picked up on the lack of intensity in the second half from his side and explained his role as captain is to make sure that doesn’t happen:

“The gaffer’s installed a sort of mentality here, but I see it as my job to try keep the boys going when we’re 3-0 up in games. I think that comes from playing for one of the Old Firm – teams sit in against you, so you need to be at it all the time. In the second half today, we were poor, and that’s how we gifted them a goal.”

Hearts are now five points clear of second placed Dunfermline, with a game in hand over the Pars. They travel to Dundee on Saturday as they hope to put another three points between themselves and one of their main rivals. 

As for The Smokies, they start 2021 with a home game against John Robertson’s Inverness, as they look to double their number of league wins for the season.

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