Heart of Midlothian 2-1 Aberdeen: Ginnelly and Shankland take Hearts closer to third
Josh Ginnelly’s brilliant long-range strike drew Hearts level
Hearts kept their hopes of a third-place finish in the Scottish Premiership alive as they came from behind to deservedly beat Aberdeen at Tynecastle.
Mattie Pollock headed Aberdeen in front, but Josh Ginnelly’s stunning strike and Lawrence Shankland’s 27th goal of the season earned Hearts all three points.
In truth, it could and should have been more for Steven Naismith’s side, who passed up chance after chance in a dominant display.
Hearts stay fourth, but have closed the gap to Aberdeen in third to just two points with two games of the season remaining with the prize of guaranteed group stage European football potentially at stake.
If Celtic beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup final, whoever finishes third will be in the Europa League play-off, with even defeat in that resulting in a Europa Conference League group place.
Hearts won that prize last term, but it was Aberdeen who started the brighter of the two sides here, pressing high and forcing errors in the Hearts defence.
But the hosts grew into the contest and should have hit the front. Shankland forced a good save from Kelle Roos, before the goalkeeper showed excellent reflexes to deny Yutaro Oda, who opted not to pass to the unmarked Ginnelly.
Hearts couldn’t translate their pressure and possession into a goal though, and found themselves behind on the half-hour, undone by a set-piece. Zander Clark flapped at a Leighton Clarkson corner, and Pollock was on hand to nod in.
The goal didn’t change the momentum of the contest. Hearts continued to pin Aberdeen in their own half, spraying the ball about confidently, roared on by a home crowd hungry for another campaign on the continent.
Aberdeen’s impressive back-line repelled wave after wave of maroon attack, throwing bodies on the line, and even when Pollock, Angus MacDonald and Liam Scales were bypassed, they had Roos to bail them out.
You sensed that it would take something special for Hearts to get back into the contest, and at the end of the first half, Ginnelly delivered.
He picked the ball up on the left and, with options in front of him limited, belted a thunderous, swerving shot into the far top corner from miles out.
After the break, Hearts went up another gear, sucking Aberdeen in and hitting them on the break again and again.
When the Tynecastle side need a goal, they look to one man, and it was Shankland that delivered, guiding home Alex Cochrane’s cross from close range.
Aberdeen were rattled, unable to cope with the relentless nature of Hearts’ attack. Barrie McKay shot just wide, and Shankland uncharacteristically fluffed his lines as the hosts looked for a third goal to kill the game off.
Alan Forrest was the latest Hearts player to pass up a gilt-edged chance, inexplicably shooting wide after being teed up by Cammy Devlin, but Aberdeen were unable to capitalise on their hosts’ generosity, and well well beaten on the day.
Player of the match – Lawrence Shankland
Two chances created in addition to his vital winning goal – Shankland was superb all afternoon, constantly finding pockets of space.
Defiant Dons defence undone by rampant Hearts – analysis
Barry Robson’s Aberdeen revival has been built on a fighting, well-structured defence, with MacDonald and Pollock both hugely impressive since they signed in January.
Indeed, the last time Aberdeen conceded more than one goal in a game was 18 February, when Celtic triumphed 4-0 at Parkhead.
But they were blown away here by Hearts, who on another day could have scored several more. During Aberdeen’s mid-season slump, they were thrashed 5-0 at Tynecastle, but Hearts were arguably more impressive in this win.
Shankland, McKay, Oda and Ginnelly exchanged positions at will, dragging defenders out of position and exploiting the gaps that were left.
Their fluidity and movement was superb, and reflected in the stats. Hearts turned their 82 final third entries into 30 shots, with 20 of those inside the box.
If they can reach that level of performance in their remaining two league games, away at Rangers and home to Hibs, they will do their chances of finishing third no harm at all.
Hearts travel to Ibrox on Wednesday (19:45 BST), while Aberdeen host St Mirren at the same time.
28Clark12Atkinson21Sibbick15Rowles19Cochrane14DevlinBooked at 25mins5HaringSubstituted forKiomourtzoglouat 86’minutes88OdaSubstituted forForrestat 77’minutes9Shankland18McKaySubstituted forSmithat 76’minutes30GinnellySubstituted forGrantat 65’minutesSubstitutes2Smith7Grant8Kiomourtzoglou13Stewart16Halliday17Forrest45Tait61Kuol72Hill
24Roos18Pollock27MacDonaldSubstituted forMacKenzieat 60’minutes4Scales25Richardson8BarronSubstituted forMorrisat 60’minutes16RamadaniBooked at 52minsSubstituted forBavidgeat 88’minutes20Clarkson17HayesBooked at 11minsSubstituted forDuncanat 60’minutes15WatkinsBooked at 25minsSubstituted forMarkandayat 79’minutes9MiovskiBooked at 49minsSubstitutes1Lewis3MacKenzie7Morris10Markanday14Myslovic23Duncan33Kennedy36Bavidge
Match ends, Heart of Midlothian 2, Aberdeen 1.
Second Half ends, Heart of Midlothian 2, Aberdeen 1.
Orestis Kiomourtzoglou (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jack MacKenzie (Aberdeen).
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match because of an injury Nathaniel Atkinson (Heart of Midlothian).
Delay in match because of an injury Matthew Pollock (Aberdeen).
Offside, Heart of Midlothian. Orestis Kiomourtzoglou tries a through ball, but Lawrence Shankland is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Leighton Clarkson (Aberdeen) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Substitution, Aberdeen. Alfie Bavidge replaces Ylber Ramadani.
Delay in match because of an injury Kye Rowles (Heart of Midlothian).
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Orestis Kiomourtzoglou replaces Peter Haring.
Jorge Grant (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Matthew Pollock (Aberdeen).
Attempt missed. Alan Forrest (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Cameron Devlin.
Attempt blocked. Michael Smith (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Peter Haring.
Attempt saved. Jorge Grant (Heart of Midlothian) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Alan Forrest with a cross.
Substitution, Aberdeen. Dilan Markanday replaces Marley Watkins.
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Alan Forrest replaces Yutaro Oda.
Player of the match
Heart of Midlothian
Squad number30Player nameGinnelly
Squad number12Player nameAtkinson
Squad number9Player nameShankland
Squad number19Player nameCochrane
Squad number88Player nameOda
Squad number18Player nameMcKay
Squad number14Player nameDevlin
Squad number5Player nameHaring
Squad number15Player nameRowles
Squad number2Player nameSmith
Squad number21Player nameSibbick
Squad number7Player nameGrant
Squad number8Player nameKiomourtzoglou
Squad number17Player nameForrest
Squad number28Player nameClark
Squad number20Player nameClarkson
Squad number4Player nameScales
Squad number24Player nameRoos
Squad number18Player namePollock
Squad number27Player nameMacDonald
Squad number9Player nameMiovski
Squad number15Player nameWatkins
Squad number16Player nameRamadani
Squad number8Player nameBarron
Squad number25Player nameRichardson
Squad number17Player nameHayes
Squad number3Player nameMacKenzie
Squad number23Player nameDuncan
Squad number10Player nameMarkanday
Squad number36Player nameBavidge
Squad number7Player nameMorris