Ten Years and Counting as Hearts Share the Points up North
Hearts once again failed to leave the Caledonian Stadium with three points as Liam Boyce’s equaliser wasn’t enough to inspire Hearts to a first win away at Inverness in ten years. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Hearts travelled North for their third Friday night fixture of the month, this time to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The sides have already met twice this season, however both fixtures have been at Tynecastle, with the hosts victorious by a one goal margin on both occasions.
Hearts have an 11-point cushion at the top of the Championship table, however after Morton left Tynecastle with a point last weekend, fans were becoming increasingly frustrated with manager Robbie Neilson. The Hearts gaffer clearly wasn’t concerned however, naming a rare unchanged 11 to start in the Highlands, at a ground Hearts haven’t taken three points from since 2010.
Inverness were without manager John Robertson, who was granted compassionate leave earlier in the week due to a family bereavement. Neil McCann was in charge of the team for the first time tonight, after being appointed interim manager earlier in the week.
McCann made three changes to the Caley side which drew 2-2 with Alloa on Tuesday night. Miles Storey, James Keatings and skipper Sean Welsh returned to take the places of Scott Allardice, Daniel Mackay and Nikolay Todorov.
McCann will have dreamt last night about a potentially memorable evening for both himself and Inverness. When an uncharacteristic mistake from Michael Smith – alongside some poor positioning from Craig Gordon – allowed Miles Storey to latch on to a short backwards header and finish with aplomb past the Hearts ‘keeper, McCann’s dreams were well on their way to becoming a reality with the game only nine minutes old.
The hosts should’ve doubled their lead ten minutes later, when an Inverness free kick was nodded down by Wallace Duffy and Shane Sutherland couldn’t scramble the ball over the line from close range.
Plenty had been made about the positive relationship between these two clubs off the pitch prior to today’s match, however on the pitch there was no love lost. Referee Nick Walsh handed out four yellow cards in the opening 35 minutes.
Hearts equalised with their first real chance of the game nine minutes before the break, Aaron McEneff’s high ball into the box was knocked down by Craig Halkett and Liam Boyce was on hand to volley the ball into the ground and into the back of the net to equalise for the visitors and grab his 11th league goal of the season.
That was the last real chance of the first half and after a very poor start, Hearts finished the half the stronger of the two sides. Robbie Neilson made the one half time change, with Armand Gnanduillet replacing Gervane Kastaneer in what appeared to be a change of formation.
There were chances at either end in the opening two minutes of the second half. First, Robbie Deas lost the attention of Halkett, but headed over, before substitute Gnanduillet’s looping header was comfortably saved by Mark Ridgers in the Caley goal.
Hearts were forced into a change on the hour mark when an injury forced Steven Naismith went off, replaced by the in-form Jamie Walker.
Hearts huffed and puffed and were having the better of the exchanges, albeit without testing Ridgers, as the game entered the final 20 minutes.
Smith joined Naismith on the injury list, Andy Irving was introduced in his place as the visitors continued their search for what was likely to be the winning goal as we entered the final ten minutes of a poor second half.
Hearts finally created a couple of chances towards the end of the 90. Firstly, Boyce headed off the bar after being set up by Walker, before Gnanduillet’s shot across goal just evaded the Northern Irish striker at the back post.
In the final minute of stoppage time Hearts nearly snatched all three points, Walker’s shot was parried straight to Gary Mackay-Steven who headed high and wide.
That was the last action in what, prior to the final five minutes, was a disappointing second half. A draw was probably a fair result, but will suit Inverness more than Hearts, as they drop more points in their quest for the Championship title.
Inverness interim manager Neil McCann gave a very honest post-match interview and admitted how proud he was of his players, after the week they and the club as a whole had experienced:
“I’m proud. I’m delighted with the boys. This club has been through a bit of a rinser of late, losing both John and Scott. They gave me everything tonight. We limited the best team in the league to very little, so on the whole I can’t complain.”
Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon could arguably have done more for the opening goal, but he was more frustrated at another slow start from the players in front of him, which saw Hearts fall behind early:
“Disappointing. We didn’t start the game particularly well, we go behind and then we’re chasing the game. We’ll take a point, but really we came here looking for all three.”
The draw increases the pressure on manager Robbie Neilson, but he insists that the position Hearts currently sit in is a fantastic achievement to have in a league like the Scottish Championship:
“A lot of people don’t know what the Championship is like to play in. It is a very difficult league to play in, so to be sitting 12 points clear I think is credit to the players. It’s a fantastic achievement.”
The draw extends Hearts lead at the top to 12 points, although the chasing pack all have at least one game in hand over the Edinburgh side, so the likelihood is that the gap will shorten.
Inverness are once again in midweek action as they continue to play catch up with their games in hand. They travel to Dens Park to take on Dundee, meanwhile Hearts are back at Tynecastle next Saturday as they also take on the Dee.