Shields’ brace Hamers another nail in Neilson’s coffin
A brace from Connor Shields and an Andy Irving own goal saw Queen of the South leave Tynecastle with all three points for the first time since 1963. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Tuesday night saw Hearts on the end of one of the biggest Scottish Cup upsets of all time, and many fans are adamant that it was also the worst result in the club’s history.
The humiliating cup exit at the hands of part-timers Brora Rangers has led many fans to say Robbie Neilson’s job is now untenable and frankly, it’s hard to provide a case for the defence.
Fans protested outside Tynecastle prior to today’s match against Queen of the South, voicing their anger at not only Neilson and his players, but Ann Budge, the board and even the Foundation of Hearts.
Neilson revealed earlier in the week that changes would be made to his starting 11 and so it transpired. The Hearts boss made three changes to the side that lost on Tuesday – Aidy White, Liam Boyce and Andy Halliday replaced Gervane Kastaneer, Jamie Walker and Peter Haring.
The Doonhamers arrived at Tynecastle after back-to-back defeats to Alloa and Morton respectively. Allan Johnston also made three changes to the side that started at Cappielow, with Stephen Dobbie, Ciaran Dickson and Niyah Joseph replacing Euan East, Adedapo Mebude and Calvin McGrory. Joe McKee returned to the matchday squad for the first time since the 16th of January.
It would have been fair to expect Hearts to come out with fire in their belly- that wasn’t the case however, as Queen of the South went in front after just two minutes. Mihai Popescu hasn’t had many impressive showings in maroon this season and he had another moment to forget in the build up. A poor pass was picked off by Stephen Dobbie, who had the awareness to slip in his strike partner Connor Shields, who dispatched the ball past Ross Stewart to give the Doonhamers the lead.
Hearts looked nervous and some players were hiding and not showing for the ball. That doesn’t usually help you win football matches, so it came as no surprise to see Queens get in behind the Hearts defence once again, and that man Shields was on hand to curl a wonderful finish over Stewart and into the corner of the net to double the visitors’ lead after just 20 minutes.
Hearts got the goal they desperately needed 10 minutes before half time. Popescu was at fault for the first goal of the afternoon but made amends when arriving late at the front post to head home Halliday’s corner to half the deficit.
There was no more action in the 10 minutes that followed. With Hearts trailing 2-1 at the interval, a massive second half performance from the home side was required if they wanted to take something from the game.
It had been a game of very few chances and with Hearts still trailing, Neilson turned to his bench for inspiration. Jamie Walker was brought on in place of Gary Mackay-Steven, after it had been another poor showing from the midfielder. Euan Henderson was also introduced on the right wing in place of Aaron McEneff.
It was an immediate impact from young Henderson, as his low cross was met by Gnanduillet, who coolly side footed the ball home from 10 yards to pull Hearts level with 18 minutes left to play.
Hearts were the team pressing for the winner as the game entered the final 10 minutes, but it was the visitors who got the game’s fifth goal. Andy Irving met a cross from the left and comically turned the ball into his own goal – the goal just about sums up the Jambos this week.
Queens threw bodies on the line in the final minutes and Hearts thought they’d found an equaliser to spare their blushes, but the ball was adjudged to have gone out of play before Gnanduillet headed home.
The visitors defending doggedly and held on for a deserved three points, serving up another damaging defeat for Neilson’s Hearts.
It had been a horrible week for Hearts and their manager – after the match, Neilson admitted more difficult conversations will need to be had in the upcoming week:
“We need to pull ourselves together, look at ourselves in the mirror as a team and individually. We had a conversation in the changing room about we need to do, but it’s been a tough week. It’s a big blip, but we’re still 13 points clear and if you had offered us that before the season, we’d have bitten your hand off for that.”
A massive three points for Johnston’s side – he was delighted for his players and was particularly impressed with the character and attacking threat his side showed:
“We’ve been on a great run of form, we’ve let ourselves down the last couple of weeks, but today I thought we were excellent. Last time we were here, we lost 6-1 and it should’ve been more. That probably shows you how far this team has come.”
Hearts face a tough task next week as they travel to East End Park to face Dunfermline. Meanwhile, Queen of the South weren’t defeated by a lower league side, so they have a Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian to look forward to next Monday at Palmerston.