Resolute Rovers leave Tynecastle with three points as Neilson sees red

Raith Rovers inflicted Hearts’ third league defeat of the season in a game which featured five goals, two penalties and a red card. Jamie Mcintosh reports.

Hearts’ rocky start to 2021 continued on Saturday afternoon, as Raith Rovers left Tynecastle with all three points in a wild encounter that saw the away side run out as 3-2 winners. (Photo Credit – Jamie Mcintosh)

Pre-Match

After Dundee’s draw against Arbroath on Friday night, league leaders Hearts had the chance to put themselves 10 points ahead of the Dens Park side with victory against Raith Rovers. 

It had been a difficult week for the Kirkcaldy side – a COVID-19 outbreak meant that the full squad were only able to train together once (on Friday) in preparation for this match, with their last outing being a shock defeat to Queen of the South on 29th December.

Hearts defeated Alloa 3-1 at the Indodrill last week and Robbie Neilson made three changes to that side, with Liam Boyce, Steven Naismith and new recruit Gary Mackay-Steven replacing Jamie Walker, Jordan Roberts and Euan Henderson.

As for Raith Rovers, nobody really knew how much COVID-19 would affect their starting line-up, but John McGlynn made five changes to the side that was beaten by Queen of the South in December. There was a debut for Rangers loanee Kai Kennedy, as well as a first start for forward Gozie Ugwu. Jamie MacDonald returned in goals and there were also starts for Kieran Macdonald and Brad Spencer. 

The Match Itself

It would be reasonable to expect that Hearts would be the sharper of the two sides in the early stages of the match, considering many of these Rovers players were returning from a period in isolation, but that wasn’t the case and after some pinball inside the Hearts penalty box, Gozie Ugwu found the bottom corner to give the visitors a shock lead after just four minutes. 

Hearts responded well, but their chances were mainly coming from corners, with Stephen Kingsley twice going close at the near post in the opening 15 minutes. 

The hosts were piling on the pressure and went close again from a corner when Liam Boyce glanced wide at the back post – it seemed all he had to do was make contact with the ball to provide Hearts with their equaliser. 

The visitors were looking dangerous on the break and were awarded a golden opportunity to double their advantage when Stephen Kingsley fouled Dan Armstrong in the box, with a penalty being awarded as a result. Like so many times this season, however, Craig Gordon came up big for Hearts, tipping Regan Hendry’s penalty on to the post – a massive let off for the hosts. 

The first real Hearts chance from open play fell to Mackay-Steven five minutes before the break. Michael Smith’s lofted pass saw the winger get in behind Kieran MacDonald, before cutting in from the right and firing straight at Jamie MacDonald. 

Hearts were forced into a change just minutes before half time, as Christophe Berra went down after attempting a long-range pass – he was replaced by Mihai Popescu. This was the last action of the half and Rovers, after scoring early, had made it to the half time whistle with that lead still intact. 

Goalscorer Gozie Ugwu was replaced by Manny Duku at the break and within the opening minute of the second half, the striker got his first chance to make an impact. Michael Smith was adjudged to have brought down Kai Kennedy in the box and Duku stepped up to send Craig Gordon the wrong way and double the visitors’ lead from the penalty spot.

Robbie Neilson immediately brought on Josh Ginnelly for Elliott Frear, but before he had the chance to make an impact Raith got their third of the afternoon seven minutes into the second half. Good work up the left-hand side saw the ball somehow end up in the back of the net, with the goal being credited to Regan Tumulty, after what can only be described as a bit of a scramble on the goal-line.

Jamie Walker was the next player introduced in place of Andy Halliday, who once again struggled to make an impact, slamming his water bottle off the Tynecastle steps in frustration. 

Hearts pulled a goal back after 58 minutes, as substitute Josh Ginnelly’s in-swinging cross was glanced home by Boyce and Hearts had found the catalyst for what they hoped would spark a comeback. 

Hearts squandered a golden chance to get within one, ten minutes later, when Liam Boyce intercepted a poor pass on the edge of the Raith box. He squared the ball for the onrushing Walker, who scuffed his shot into the arms of MacDonald. 

Hearts know all about the quality of Jamie MacDonald, but just in case supporters had forgotten his talents, he reminded them with an incredible save to deny a Stephen Kingsley free-kick which looked destined for the bottom corner, before miraculously tipping a Michael Smith effort round the post minutes later. 

Rovers were hanging on by the skin of their teeth and if Naismith had headed Ginnelly’s cross into the net, the visitors would’ve had a nerve-racking few minutes. Instead, the Hearts skipper was denied by the crossbar on an afternoon which looked destined to belong to the visitors.

Hearts eventually found the back of the net in the second minute of additional time. Liam Boyce’s header was adjudged to have been over the line, despite the best efforts of the Raith player on the post and Hearts set up a frantic final five minutes. 

Jamie MacDonald once again denied Hearts with seconds to spare, as Liam Boyce’s flick on was volleyed towards goal by Steven Naismith, but the ball cannoned off MacDonald and was hacked away to safety. 

Raith held on for a memorable victory at Tynecastle, a result which puts them right back in the title race. They’re now nine points behind leaders Hearts, with two games in hand over the Jambos, who they host on Tuesday night. 

Post Match Comments

Robbie Neilson was given a red card by referee John Beaton after the whistle and after the match, he revealed his side have to be more clinical in front of goal: 

“I thought we were punished for a sluggish start today. Eventually we got going, we had chances to nick a draw or maybe even the three points, we didn’t take them. Jamie MacDonald was outstanding for them too.

“I tried to speak to John (Beaton) after the game and was told to get out his face. Some refs you can speak to and others you can’t. It’s clearly not a penalty for their second goal and there’s a handball for the third goal – you hope that either John or the linesman will see that.” 

Hearts skipper Steven Naismith was denied a last gasp equaliser by MacDonald and revealed that referee John Beaton admitted he got the second penalty decision wrong. 

“We gave away silly goals, the penalty kills us. John’s admitted that after the game, he’s come to realise it’s not a penalty. That gave them loads of hope, we created plenty of chances to score towards the end, but it was just one of those afternoons for us.” 

Raith Rovers manager John McGlynn admitted this was probably his side’s best performance this season, especially considering the troubles COVID-19 has caused his side this year. 

“I think against Queen of the South it was probably our poorest performance, whereas today you’d probably have to class this as one of our best. Not many teams will win at Tynecastle this season, so to do that at any time, never mind after the troubles we’ve had recently, is fantastic.” 

It’s a quick turnaround for both teams as they meet again at Stark’s Park on Tuesday night, with Raith looking to win back-to-back league games for the first time since the opening two games of the season.

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