Gnanduillet winner enough to see off Dundee
Hearts extended their lead at the top of the Championship to 15 points, courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Dundee at Tynecastle. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Considering Hearts came into this game with a 12-point cushion at the top of the Scottish Championship, Saturday’s fixture against Dundee did, perhaps surprisingly, have a ‘must win’ feel to it. Maybe it was down to the fact Hearts had drawn their last three games and had performed to an unacceptable level for just about all of 2021, or maybe it was due to the growing concerns from Hearts fans regarding manager Robbie Neilson. Throw in the fact that Neilson’s opposite number, James McPake, is under pressure too and the fact that these sides don’t have much time for each other, and you had the perfect ingredients for an enticing match up.
Neilson made two changes to the side that drew with Inverness last Friday, with Gervane Kastaneer and Steven Naismith being replaced by Andy Irving and Armand Gnanduillet – Jamie Walker was once again on the bench.
Dundee were impressive when defeating Inverness on Tuesday and James McPake stuck with the same 11 players to get a positive result in the capital. Jason Cummings returned to Tynecastle in fine goalscoring form, and his strike partner Danny Mullen was on target in both games between the sides earlier in the season.
There wasn’t much to write home about in the opening 20 minutes. Gnanduillet and McEneff went close for the hosts, and as for the visitors, Danny Mullen got in behind the Hearts defence and was bearing down on Craig Gordon when Mihai Popescu slid in perfectly to thwart the striker.
Hearts almost went in front midway through the first half, as Andy Halliday found space on the left and his cross-cum-shot had Jack Hamilton beaten. Unfortunately for the midfielder, the ball came back off the far post and denied Hearts a fortuitous opener.
The hosts were on top at this point and had a golden chance to get their noses in-front when a deflected shot fell straight to Gnanduillet, but the striker couldn’t scramble the ball in from close range.
Hearts had another great opportunity to go in front seconds later, and this time it was taken. Gnanduillet’s cross from the left was over Boyce, but Andy Halliday coasted in at the back post and headed the ball past Jack Hamilton to give the hosts a deserved lead, ten minutes before the break.
Dundee hadn’t really created anything of note, but they almost equalised five minutes later, as a free-kick was headed clear, but only as far as Paul McGowan. His volley from 20 yards out came back off the bar and the rebound was headed over by Paul McMullan with the goal at his mercy.
Hearts deserved their one goal lead at half time, but despite being far from their, best Dundee were still very much in the match with an improved second half performance likely.
Paul McMullan missed a sitter in the first half for the visitors, but Gary Mackay-Steven’s chance could as easily be a miss of the season contender. Gnanduillet’s deflected effort fell straight to the winger and with Hamilton on the floor it seemed certain the scoreline was about to change. Miraculously though, Mackay-Steven fluffed his shot into the ground, allowing Hamilton to get back on his feet and gather the ball.
Robbie Neilson has said in previous weeks that he wants his side to be more clinical in front of goal, so the Hearts boss won’t have been best pleased when his star striker, Liam Boyce opted for power over placement and lashed the ball off the bar. Another golden opportunity spurned by the hosts and you did get the feeling these missed chances may come back to bite Hearts.
Fortunately for the league leaders, they took the next chance that came their way, rather fortuitously though. Gnanduillet was sent through on goal and when Jack Hamilton denied him, the ball cannoned back off the striker and into the net to double the hosts’ lead.
Dundee needed a goal quickly and when Cummings was brought down in the box by Popescu, they had the perfect opportunity. The striker dusted himself down and sent Gordon the wrong way to haul Dundee back into the contest just after the hour mark.
The visitors had a spring in their step now and once again this season, Craig Gordon came up big for Hearts, first denying a long-range effort from Cummings before denying Osman Sow from point blank range on the rebound.
Hearts were sitting pretty deep as the game entered the final ten minutes and again, Gordon prevented Dundee from drawing level, first denying Sow and then the rebound from substitute Johnathan Afolabi.
As the game entered stoppage time, Cummings almost equalised with a looping header after Popescu had lost possession, but Hearts remained in front. Seconds later however, Hearts substitute Peter Haring was shown a straight red card for a late challenge.
In the end, Hearts held on for a massive three points in their quest for the Championship title, extending their lead at the top to 15 points.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson once again highlighted the fact his side didn’t take many of the chances they created, but overall was impressed with his side’s performance:
“We didn’t score when we were dominant. We were comfortable at 2-0, then gave away the penalty, and then we were hanging on a bit towards the end. We created plenty chances though, definitely should’ve scored more and we’re in a good position in the league so all in all very good.”
After the match there appeared to be strong words between Robbie Neilson and James McPake – the latter was disappointed at the fact his side didn’t get anything from the game, but admits he saw a big difference to the team that lost at Tynecastle earlier in the season:
“I’m gutted for my players, Craig Gordon came up with big saves for them at crucial points in the game. As for the red card, Robbie was already shouting it’ll get rescinded, so he can clearly see into the future – either that or he’s got better eyesight than me.”
Ayr United are the next team to travel to Tynecastle next weekend. As for Dundee, they are also back on home turf, as they welcome Arbroath to Dens Park.