50 up for Walker but Morton Take a Point
Hearts dropped more points in a frustrating afternoon at Tynecastle, as Greenock Morton picked up a 1-1 draw at the home of the league leaders. Jamie McIntosh reports.
After last Friday’s uninspiring display at Palmerston, Hearts were looking to get back on the winning trail with three points against seventh placed Morton at Tynecastle.
The visitors have had their moments this season, albeit few and far between. Wins against Dunfermline and a late comeback to defeat Ayr United have kept the Greenock side clear of the relegation places, for the time being.
The club has had its fair share of troubles off the field too. Manager David Hopkin stepped down in December, leading many people to assume the club were struggling financially. Hopkin was replaced by his assistant Anton McElhone who, after winning his first two games in charge, has now gone seven games without a win, and it was difficult to give them much of a chance at Tynecastle.
Hearts boss Robbie Neilson would be watching today’s match from the stands, after being given a two-match ban by the Scottish FA for misconduct during Hearts’ defeat to Raith Rovers in January. He made two changes to the side that started at Palmerston last Friday, with Aaron McEneff making his first Hearts start, replacing Andy Irving, and skipper Steven Naismith returning to the starting XI in place of Jamie Walker.
Morton boss McElhone made two changes to the side who lost to Raith at Cappielow a fortnight ago, with Kyle Jacobs and Cameron Salkeld replacing Gary Oliver and Chris Millar.
Much like the reverse fixture at Cappielow, Morton were sitting very deep in a 4-5-1 formation with Salkeld playing furthest forward. Despite this, Hearts managed to fashion a chance inside four minutes and it was a brilliant opportunity for McEneff to mark his home debut with a goal. Naismith slipped him in, but the midfielder was denied by Aidan McAdams.
If the chance for McEneff was a good opportunity, the one which followed for Popescu just a minute later was an even better opening. Boyce’s deflected cross fell right at the feet of the defender, who wildly lashed the ball over from close range, a prime example of a chance falling to the wrong man.
Again, Hearts came close to breaking the deadlock. McEneff was involved this time round too, testing McAdams from distance and from the resulting corner Popescu headed over. The Morton goal was living a charmed life and after only 15 minutes, it seemed a matter of time before Hearts scored the opener.
One way traffic would be putting the opening 25 minutes of this match lightly. Smith and Halliday were the next two to go close for the hosts, however it remained goalless.
The visitors had a rare venture forward on the half hour mark and won themselves a corner, which Sean McGinty headed towards goal. Michael Smith was well positioned to head the ball away from under the crossbar.
Following the offensive anomaly from Morton, it was back to wave after wave of Hearts attack and quick thinking from Liam Boyce almost opened the scoring. The ball was played into the striker who, with his back to goa,l flicked the ball over his head and towards the far corner. Unfortunately for him the ball bounced off the top of the bar.
The woodwork was once again rattled in the first half when a cross from Aidan Nesbitt on the Morton left wasn’t contested by Gordon, who was relieved to see the ball bounce off the bar and away to safety. The visitors were gradually coming into the game, as the hosts grew increasingly frustrated.
David Dickinson called an end to a first half which Hearts had dominated and could easily have scored three or four goals in. Instead, Morton went down the tunnel still on terms, despite the first half onslaught on their goal.
Hearts haven’t kept many clean sheets in the league this season, especially at home, so despite the hosts dominance, it came as no surprise to see Craig McGuffie’s sweet strike find the bottom corner to give the visitors the lead with the first chance of the second half.
Hearts immediately introduced Armand Gnanduillet to the action and the striker’s first involvement was the perfect set up to Naismith, who completely missed the ball, before Kingsley’s follow up was blocked, as Morton bodies lined up to protect their goal.
Hearts hadn’t had many chances in the second half, but Walker’s volley at the back post was brilliantly saved by McAdams after Mackay-Steven had picked out the substitute.
Walker scored both goals at Cappielow in the reverse fixture earlier in the season and he had the Greenock side in his sights again when perfectly heading a Gnanduillet cross high into the net to equalise for the Jambos and get his 50th goal in maroon.
Hearts huffed and puffed, but they struggled to create anywhere near the number of chances they did in the first half. Halkett came close from a set piece, but Hearts couldn’t find a winner and the spoils were shared.
It was another damaging result for Robbie Neilson who is starting to receive a fair share of criticism from disgruntled supporters, despite Hearts still topping the Championship table. He admitted his side need to become more clinical in front of goal.
“In football, you have to put the ball in the back of the net, and we didn’t do that today, so we only have ourselves to blame.”
As for Morton boss Anton McElhone, he passionately admitted how proud he was of his players and admits he has full belief his side can mount a late playoff charge.
“We’re Morton. Nobody gives a monkeys about us, nobody rates us, but I rate them, and I’ve got full belief in these players and they do too. We’ve set a marker today. Not many teams will leave here with a point this season, so it’s a pleasing performance and result and we move on to Dundee next week.”
Hearts are back on the BBC next Friday night taking on Inverness, as the Jambos look to extend their lead at the top to 14 points before their rivals play on Saturday. Meanwhile, Morton are back at Cappielow next Saturday to take on an inconsistent Dundee.