Evening Express

Aberdeen third going into Premiership split after 2-0 defeat to Hearts

Aberdeen's Graeme Shinnie competes with Hearts' Don Cowie.

A first-half Hearts onslaught saw Aberdeen lose 2-0 – and hand second place back to Rangers going into the Premiership split.

The sides met at a redeveloped Tynecastle hoping to improve on the two goalless stalemates they’d played out in Edinburgh and at Pittodrie so far this season.

Anthony O’Connor had scored the last goal at the stadium before it closed for the main stand to be renovated back in May.

Adam Rooney got the other Dons goal in a 2-1 win.

Craig Levein’s side hadn’t lost at the ground since returning from Murrayfield in November, but going into this match all Hearts were fighting for was to keep tabs with Kilmarnock in fifth going into the post-split period.

If anyone was going to end that record it was the Reds, who had won their last three trips to play the Jambos at Tynecastle, including both last term.

Derek McInnes made one change to the Aberdeen line-up which despatched Motherwell 2-0 in the rain at Fir Park on Tuesday, with Kari Arnason dropping out for Niall McGinn – back from injury.

Anthony O’Connor was moved from holding midfield to partner Scott McKenna at centre-back, with Kenny McLean and skipper Graeme Shinnie in central midfield.

Ryan Christie, Greg Stewart and McGinn were set up in a three behind Stevie May.

There were two power cuts before kick-off, taking a wee bit of a shine off of the main stand’s impressive appearance from outside and inside the ground, and meaning the turnstiles’ opening was delayed until 2.15pm.

Still it was a packed house by kick-off and Hearts threatened first on four minutes, Joe Lewis’ mishit clearance being worked wide for Kyle Lafferty on the left to fire across goal and over.

On eight minutes a McGinn free-kick from the left was headed off of the post by Andy Considine.

Steven NAISMITH opened the scoring two minutes later, receiving the ball from David Milinkovic on the left, taking a good couple of touches to the penalty spot and firing low past the onrushing Lewis.

On 20 minutes it was two, MILINKOVIC finishing from eight yards past Lewis and a despairing O’Connor after the Reds lost possession on the edge of their own box.

Considine played a poor ball to McLean, who was surrounded by Hearts players. The ball was stolen and fell to Lafferty, his shot deflected off McKenna into Milinkovic’s path.

Hearts were going into a 5-4-1 when Aberdeen were attacking and it was becoming a real struggle for the Dons to create any openings. With the ball Levein’s side were advancing quickly and in numbers, with wing-backs Connor Randall and Marcus Godinho playing in almost a front five with the three forwards.

Aberdeen were given a free-kick on the left on 42 minutes for a dreadful Don Cowie swipe on McGinn. He got on the end of the set-play himself after it bounced around the box a bit, but his shot from the left corner of the six-yard box was high and wide. It was a good chance and, spare a weaving Christie run, the Dons’ last of the half.

Stewart didn’t emerge for the second-half, being replaced by Kari Arnason – O’Connor moved to screen the defence with McLean taking Stewart’s place in the three behind May. It was a beefed-up line-up recognising Aberdeen were in a real scrap to stand up to Hearts’ swarm and hold on to second.

However, there wasn’t any noticeable shift in the tide in the minutes after the interval.

Long balls were being hit out of play as McInnes’ men searched for a moment of quality to wrestle the game back. Where Hearts’ short passes were slick, the Dons were struggling.

On 59 minutes, Lafferty got in behind and zipped a near post drive over the bar after Milinkovic threaded the ball through to him.

Sub Mackay-Steven added some urgency to proceedings for the Reds after a good period of possession but little penetration.

On 67 minutes, he robbed Naismith and drove at Jon McLauglin, making the keeper work to hold on to a low effort.

Slowly but surely the Reds were gaining ground in the Jambos half, and the question was whether they could battle through the well-organised defence to create meaningful chances and the goal they so desperately needed.

Adam Rooney was thrown on as McInnes went two up top in a final roll of the dice.

It almost came on 72 minutes, Shinnie switching to the lively Mackay-Steven on the left, who slashed a shot past McLaughlin’s far post.

Hearts were content to sit back in their own half as the match entered its final stages, but in a moment of attack, John Souttar’s short pass allowed Lafferty to again attempt to beat Lewis at his near post, this time forcing a low stop.

Rooney then hooked the ball off the post of McLaughlin’s goal on 82 minutes, when Considine nodded a Shay Logan cross from the right on to him at the back post.

Aberdeen continued to probe for a way back, but Hearts stood firm in defensive numbers until referee John Beaton blew for full-time, sending the Reds third on goal difference after Rangers beat Dundee 4-1.

TEAMS

Aberdeen: Joe Lewis, Shay Logan, Graeme Shinnie, Andrew Considine, Anthony O’Connor, Kenny McLean, Greg Stewart, Niall McGinn, Scott McKenna, Ryan Christie, Stevie May.

Subs: Kari Arnason (Stewart 45), Gary Mackay-Steven (McGinn 61), Adam Rooney (Christie 70).

Subs not used: Freddie Woodman, Mark Reynolds, Adam Rooney, Gary Mackay-Steven, Scott Wright, Dominic Ball.

 

Hearts: Jon McLaughlin, John Souttar, Aaron Hughes, Christophe Berra, Connor Randall, Don Cowie, Michael Smith, Marcus Godinho, David Milinkovic, Steven Naismith, Kyle Lafferty.

Subs: Danny Amankwaa (Milinkovic 70), Harry Cochrane (Cowie 88).

Subs not used: Jack Hamilton, Chris Hamilton, Anthony McDonald, Ross Callachan, Euan Henderson.

 

Referee: John Beaton.

 

Attendance 18,056.