Second-half goals from attackers Alan Forrest and Barrie McKay were enough to help Hearts win 2-1 at home over Ross County in Saturday’s Premiership opener.
The Staggies were the better team in the first half and hit the woodwork twice before the break.
But the hosts, relieved to still be at the level, stepped up things after the period and gave themselves two goals in the lead before Jordan White hit back to set up a tense finale.
How Hearts Started With Victory…
Hearts, bidding to follow their impressive third place finish from last season, handing competitive debuts rights to Kye Rowles, Lawrence Shankland and Forrest, while other rookies Lewis Neilson and Jorge Grant are listed in number of substitutes. Influential defender Stephen Kingsley is out due to injury.
County boss Malky Mackay, who made it through to their Premier Sports Cup group stage, included three summer signings in the starting lineup – Ben Purrington, Jordy Hiwula and Owura Edwards.
Before kick-off, Hearts paid tribute to famous former player Drew Busby, who passed away in early July, with a tifo performance in the Wheatfield stands and a minute of silence.
The home side had their first attempt of the game in the ninth minute when Shankland fired a shot from close to 25 yards after Michael Smith drove impressively into the County half.
The visitors threatened two minutes after Hiwula fired from outside the box after being set up by Edwards.
County took the lead again after 17 minutes when Purrington had an effort from 12 yards that was saved by Nathaniel Atkinson after good play from Dominic Samuel and Hiwula on the left.
Hearts suffered a major defeat six minutes later when Samuel glimpsed a header inside the post from Edwards’ cross. And right after that, Edwards unleashed a dangerous long shot from inside the box.
The home team had to make a change in the 28th minute when Atkinson was injured to replace him with Grant.
County continued to be the more threatening side and Hiwula saw an effort from the left, deflecting Craig Halkett, which was defeated by Craig Gordon.
Hearts finally stopped the flow of attacks late in the first half and Rowles headed in from a Grant corner just before the break.
The hosts started the second half in a more purposeful manner and Forrest was unlucky to see a goal-scoring effort from inside the box by Connor Randall.
The winger was not denied, however, and he opened the scoring in the 59th minute when he headed a cross from Alex Cochrane from close range.
Hearts doubled the lead in the 77th minute after McKay picked up a ball from above Cochrane and performed a great skill to get himself down and pass Ross Laidlaw from close range.
County had their hopes up two minutes later when White’s replacement penetrated the home team’s defense and forced the ball past Gordon from inside the box, but the home side held on.
What the managers have to say…
Master of the heart Robbie Neilson: “In the first half, we showed a rush of pre-season competition.
“One of the pluses of being in Europe is that you can build pre-season. But one of the downsides is that you’re not in the Premier Sports Cup, which I think is a great trophy because you can. went in and played four games and was competitive. And I just felt in the first half we didn’t have the competitive edge we needed, that energy to push forward. when we talk to them.
“Sometimes you’re out there and it’s 200 mph and you need to get in and settle down and realize, ‘Okay, this is it now, the league has started’.
“You can say all you want in the process of building it, but you need to be there. When you’re out there, it can sometimes hit you like that. I think it’s just to be okay. identified the players and made them realize what they needed to do and we did it.
“I think they played very well. Similar to last season, the energy, the pressure, the aggressiveness made it very difficult for us to play. We knew they were going to come with a three-man formation and would try to catch up with us. . I just did.” I didn’t feel we showed the intensity we needed in the first half. “
Boss of Ross County Malky Mackay: “I’m proud of them for being able to give the performance they gave.
“The first half they were absolutely brilliant. If we were 2-0 up it wouldn’t be an unfair score. But we have to take advantage of those opportunities because Hearts are clinical and they’ve been pressing. us in the second half.”
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