Not a great match but not as poor as the scoreline would suggest. Hearts were poor in the first half and had goalkeeper Marian Kello to thank for a string of quality saves that denied a resurgent Aberdeen team. A change in strategy from Hearts boss Jim Jefferies at half time meant that his side competed more in the second period, but neither side could break the deadlock.
Craig Brown made two changes from the 1-0 win over Hamilton. Zander Diamond was unavailable so Andrew Considine started in the centre of defence and Derek Young was dropped to the bench to make way for club-captain, and former Hearts player, Paul Hartley.
Hearts were barely recognisable from the side that were lucky to take all three points at home to Dundee United with Lee Wallace, Ruben Palazuelos, David Obua, Ian Black and Suso Santana all missing for varying reasons. Craig Thomson, Adrian Mrowiec, Ryan Stevenson, Andy Driver and David Templeton were the replacements.
Aberdeen lined up as 4-3-2-1 whereas Hearts stuck with their tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Both side played with inverted wingers although Aberdeen got far more from theirs over the ninety minutes. This was evidenced in only the second minute when Sone Aluko cut in from the right on to his stronger left foot, forcing Kello into his first of many saves.
Mostly similar shapes, different strategies
The only major difference between the two formations was that while Aberdeen’s central midfield three got themselves behind the ball when out of possession, Hearts left Rudi Skacel further forward and kept Mrowiec and Stevenson deep. Other than this, the sides pretty much lined up the same and it was the implementation of the formations that provided the difference between the teams.
During the first half, the Hearts full-backs remained in position and Mrowiec and Stevenson sat in front of the back four, allowing the four attacking players to stay further forward. The problem was that there was such a big gap between the defensive and attacking players that Hearts struggled to link the play between them and get the ball into dangerous areas.
Jim Jefferies said after the match that this was a game for the injured Kevin Kyle, which is a roundabout way of conceding that he would have preferred to hit long balls towards a target man and hope that Driver, Templeton and Skacel could feed off knock-downs and second balls.
Aberdeen, on the other hand, got their full-backs forward to provide width and their midfield took turns in supporting the attack. Ultimately, this was the reason as to why Aberdeen created chances and Hearts failed to. Robert Milsom especially provided a composed and creative presence in the centre of midfield and has once again proved Craig Brown’s shrewdness in the transfer market.
With Hearts unwilling to send more than four players forward, Aberdeen easily neutralised any threat posed. The two centre-backs picked up Stephen Elliott, which left Aberdeen with a 5v3 situation in the area just in front of them. When Hearts attacked down the right through Driver, Milsom and Steven Smith would double up on him, while Ryan Jack would move more central with Paul Hartley and pick up Skacel. If Hearts attacked down the opposite flank, Jack would aid David McNamee in preventing the runs of Templeton, with Milsom tucking in on the other side.
Hearts better in second half
In the second half, Hearts sent Craig Thomson and Eggert Jonsson further forward from full-back more often and Stevenson’s position was not as deep as it had been in the first. These subtle changes caused Hearts to enjoy more possession higher up the field and as a result their wingers found themselves more involved.
Despite this, Hearts failed to trouble Jamie Langfield in the Aberdeen goal, apart from a rasping Skacel strike from the edge of the box just after half time. Stephen Elliott struggled to get involved as a lone striker at all and was moved out to the right when Calum Elliot replaced Driver.
Both sides made the maximum amount of changes but none made any real difference to the shapes or strategies of the sides, or to the outcome of the match. The second half was more evenly matched than the first had been, however, it was Kello in the Hearts goal that once again was the busier of the two goalkeepers.
Craig Brown got his tactics spot on and would have won all three point had it not been for yet another fantastic performance from Marian Kello. He set up his side in a manner which stopped the Hearts dangermen from making any impact on the match while also taking the game to their opponents. The huge gap between the Hearts attacking and defensive players also partly explains their impotence in the first half but Jim Jefferies’s caution was possibly borne out of having so many key players unavailable to him. Driver is not fully fit, Mrowiec’s form has dipped and Stevenson was off the pace for the duration of the match. None of these three would have started had Jefferies had a full squad to choose from.