How Hearts fared at Dundee, what they are missing and the significant Luke McCowan factor

Hearts midfielder Aidan Denholm and Dundee's Owen Beck during the cinch Premiership match at Dens Park. Pic: SNS
Hearts midfielder Aidan Denholm and Dundee's Owen Beck during the cinch Premiership match at Dens Park. Pic: SNS

This was certainly an opportunity missed for Hearts to gain ground on those above them in the cinch Premiership table. However, Dundee deserved their narrow victory on a day when the Tynecastle side struggled to create clear scoring chances and needed more craft. The game was settled by Luke McCowan’s lofted second-half strike from distance after a mistake by Hearts inside their own half.

McCowan was the outstanding player afield and was rightly named man of the match. Hearts, wearing their all-pink away kit, didn’t have a player on the same level. Perhaps their minds were on the imminent Europa Conference League play-off return leg against PAOK Salonika in Greece, but they were subdued for much of the afternoon on Tayside.

Their incentive was that victory could potentially propel them joint-top of the Premiership depending on the result between St Mirren and Aberdeen. They made five changes from Thursday night’s European first leg, some perhaps with the return leg in mind. More than 2,500 travelling fans made plenty noise at Dens Park despite some untidy early play. Much of that was down to residual water on the pitch following torrential pre-match rain.

Dundee enjoyed the better of the first half and midfielder Finlay Robertson’s shot was stopped by visiting goalkeeper Zander Clark on 27 minutes. Hearts lacked movement in the attacking third when they did venture forward, with passages of play too often one-paced and pedestrian. They had a lucky escape when the former Tynecastle defender Jordan McGhee found the net after an excellent run and cross by Scott Tiffoney. McGhee’s shot deflected off Zach Robinson before a VAR review concluded Robinson was offside.

Hearts appealed loudly for a penalty when Yutaro Oda fell in a tangle with Dundee’s left-back Owen Beck whilst chasing Toby Sibbick’s through ball. VAR decided no infringement and half-time arrived with the notion that this fixture had yet to properly ignite. The Edinburgh side made three substitutions during the interval in a clear indication that their management team were unhappy. Liam Boyce, Cammy Devlin and Nathaniel Atkinson were introduced for Oda, Sibbick and Odel Offiah respectively.

The changes brought a more dynamic approach. Stephen Kingsley’s 25-yard free-kick forced a strong one-handed save from the Dundee goalkeeper Trevor Carson, whilst Boyce and Alex Lowry were lively. However, scoring opportunities remained rare. Hearts became architects of their own downfall when the hosts struck against the run of play on 63 minutes.

Clark left his penalty area to play a free-kick to Kye Rowles, who moved it on to Aidan Denholm. A loose backward pass from the otherwise impressive teenager was seized upon by McCowan. He lofted a perfect lob over the backpedalling Clark into the top corner from almost 30 yards and set off to celebrate.

It would have been 2-0 on 80 minutes had Clark not pushed Amadou Bakayoko’s header from McCowan’s curling cross away for a corner. Hearts substitute Jorge Grant saw a late shot blocked by Dundee captain Joe Shaughnessy, and with that the points remained at Dens.

Dundee (4-3-3): Carson; Kerr, Shaughnessy, McGhee, Beck; Robertson (Sylla 76), Boateng, McCowan; Robinson, Bakayoko, Tiffoney (Cameron 66).

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Clark; Offiah (Atkinson 46), Kent, Rowles, Kingsley; Sibbick (Devlin 46), Denholm (Grant 69); Oda (Boyce 46), Lowry, Vargas (Tagawa 69); Shankland.

Referee: Alan Muir.

Attendance: 8,104.