A tale of two penalties as the points are shared at Palmerston

Liam Boyce’s late penalty cancelled out Ayo Obileye’s first half spot kick, proving enough to steal a point for Hearts and extend their lead at the top of the Championship table to 13 points. Jamie McIntosh reports.

Despite Ayo Obileye’s first-half opener, Liam Boyce converted his second penalty in as many games to rescue a point for the league leaders at the death. Photo Credit – SNS

Pre-Match

The Hearts juggernaut rolled into Dumfries looking for the win that would extend their lead at the top of the Championship table to 15 points – for at least the remainder of the weekend – with Dunfermline and Raith’s fixtures being postponed due to the recent bad weather. 

It was back-to-back away fixtures on a Friday night for Hearts, having ran out as 1-0 winners at Somerset Park last week. Manager Robbie Neilson made just the one change from the side that started against Ayr, with Armand Gnanduillet dropping out of the squad due to a hamstring problem, Gervane Kastaneer made his first Hearts start in his place. 

Queens manager Allan Johnston made three changes to the side who lost to bottom of the table Alloa last weekend. The Doonhamers’ current top scorer Connor Shields missed out through injury – he was replaced by Rangers loanee Adedapo Mebude. There were also starts for Nortei Nortey and Gregor Buchanan, in place of Aidan Fitzpatrick and Rhys McCabe. 

The Match Itself

Robbie Neilson’s side have been regularly criticised this season for starting games sluggishly, however you couldn’t accuse the Edinburgh side of that in this game. Hearts were getting joy in the wide areas in the opening 15 minutes and it seemed only a matter of time before a maroon jersey would be on the end of an enticing delivery. 

Queens were well organised in their back five and were trying to hit Hearts on the break, but one of these quick counters sustained a negative result. Unfortunately for the hosts, whilst on an early dangerous counter-attack, midfielder Daniel Pybus quickly pulled up with a hamstring injury and had to be replaced by Calvin McGrory. 

Allan Johnston’s side had grown into the game and he’d be pleased to see Rohan Ferguson twiddling his thumbs in the Queens goal for the opening half hour of the match, before getting down low to deny Jamie Walker at his near post just minutes later.

In a game of very few chances, the hosts were given a golden opportunity to take the lead three minutes before the break. On-loan Middlesbrough winger Isaiah Jones scored on his Queens debut last week and when he was brought down by Stephen Kingsley in the box, referee Colin Steven showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. 

Ayo Obileye stepped up and despite not striking the ball particularly cleanly, Gordon dived the other way and the ball rolled into the corner to send the Doonhamers in with a 1-0 lead at the break. 

It’d be a fair assumption to say that game management would be a feature of Allan Johnston’s half time team talk and after seeing his side create nothing in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, his opposite number Robbie Neilson made his first change, with the uninspiring Kastaneer being replaced by Irish midfielder Aaron McEneff. 

Euan Henderson and Steven Naismith were introduced as the half went on, but Hearts created virtually nothing in the way of chances until a hopeful ball forward in the 90th minute was flicked on and Liam Boyce was brought down inside the penalty area by Rhys Breen.

Colin Steven pointed to the spot for the second time on the night and the Championship’s top goal-scorer dusted himself down and dispatched the penalty emphatically to steal a point for the visitors.

After three minutes of stoppage time, Colin Steven brought an end to proceedings in what was certainly not a game to write home about. Queens’ arguably deserved it for sheer effort alone, however considering both goals were penalties, I’m not sure either manager can complain about the end result. 

Post-Match Reaction

Allan Johnston admitted that with his side missing key players, he’d have happily taken a point before tonight’s fixture, although he relented that the late goal was a harsh lesson for his players:

“We defended well for long periods, but we looked really dangerous on the break. We caused Hearts plenty of problems. I thought we looked solid defensively, so we’re disappointed to concede the late goal, but all in all there’s plenty of positives for us to take from tonight.” 

It came as no surprise to hear that Robbie Neilson wasn’t impressed with his side’s performance, nor the penalty Queen of the South were awarded in the first half. However, he also was unimpressed with the artificial surface at Palmerston.

“It wasn’t a great performance from us. I thought we controlled a lot of the game, but on this surface it’s very difficult to get the ball down and play. I saw their penalty at half-time and I didn’t think it was one – I thought Jones just stuck his leg out.” 

After back-to-back away games, Hearts are back at Tynecastle next weekend, as Greenock Morton travel to Gorgie. As for the Doonhamers, they face the long trip to the Highlands on Wednesday to take on Inverness, before travelling to Dens Park to face Dundee next Saturday. 

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