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Hearts 0-0 Ross County: Mackay hails ‘brave’ visitors as they enhance hopes of securing European football

Ross County striker Jordan White (right) had a first-half goal chopped off for a marginal offside call

Manager Malky Mackay hailed his “brave” Ross County side after they put themselves in the driving seat for a European place with a deserved Scottish Premiership draw at Hearts.

The visitors felt hard done by after Jordan White’s first-half goal was ruled out for a marginal offside call.

They then had to dig deep after the break but held firm to move a point clear of sixth-placed Motherwell.

“We were playing a terrific team,” Mackay told BBC Scotland.

“We started really well on the front foot, the first half was excellent. Second half we knew they would come at us but we were really brave.

“In the final third, if our last pass had more concertation we would’ve been in two or three times as well but we still worked Craig Gordon.”

The result has no bearing on the league position of Scottish Cup finalists Hearts, who sealed third spot prior to the split.

But with fifth place enough for entry to the Europa Conference qualifiers, the point could be vital for County. They now hold a cushion over Motherwell in their quest to secure European football for the first time.

This season’s previous three league meetings had served up high-level entertainment, with an average of three goals per game. More of the same was the message from a bumper Tynecastle crowd.

County started promisingly and asked all the early questions as they pressed Hearts’ depleted backline with aggression.

Connor Randall forced Craig Gordon low to his right with a strike from distance that skimmed off the greasy turf before Toby Sibbick got his body in the way of a close-range effort from Blair Spittal.

The visitors were then denied by the lineman’s flag as Spittal’s inch-perfect ball from deep on the right was slid into the net by White.

It was the tightest of margins, a call that VAR will be key in deciding when it is introduced in December.

Hearts were restricted to speculative first-half efforts from Ben Woodburn and Barrie McKay as County’s well-organized backline nullified the home attack.

But Robbie Neilson’s side posed a greater threat after the break as Josh Ginnelly skied over from close range and Liam Boyce was denied by Ross Laidlaw when through one on one.

McKay and Boyce then had efforts drift narrowly past either post as County, whose only real second-half chance came from a Ross Callachan shot saved by the foot of Gordon, dug deep to earn a precious point.

Man of the Match – Connor Randall

Connor Randall
The former Hearts full-back was key to County’s attacking play in the first half and put in a tireless defensive shift after the break

What did we learn?

For Hearts, it is all about keeping momentum rolling as they look forward to May’s Scottish Cup final with Rangers.

This result goes some way to achieving that as Neilson’s side remains depleted. With four of his first-choice back five plus midfield duo Cammy Devlin and Beni Baningime not playing any part, the Hearts boss will have learned a lot about his fringe players.

For a side that failed to win any of their first 10 league games, it is remarkable the position that County find themselves in.

The Highlanders have deservedly received plaudits for their attacking play, but the second half here highlighted the defensive resilience that Mackay has instilled in his side, with four clean sheets recorded in their last seven games.

What did they say?

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson: “There was a wee bit of flatness there. To County’s credit they defended really well. The start of the game was 200 miles an hour. On another day, [Liam] Boyce scores two or three goals.

“We were down to the bare bones. We didn’t really have any changes to make. Hopefully we get a few more back for Celtic next week.”

Ross County boss Malky Mackay: “There’s been a level of consistency before Christmas that I’ve enjoyed. Hearts are the third best team in the country and we’ve had three draws against them this season.

“Motherwell and Dundee United would have been looking hoping Hearts would turn us over. It’s one more game down, there are three to go and two are at home.”

What’s next?

Hearts travel to league leaders Celtic next Saturday (12:00 BST) before County host Motherwell later in the day (15:00).

player-of-the-match

McKayBarry McKay

Heart of Midlothian

  1. squad number18player nameMcKay

  2. squad number5player nameharing

  3. squad number9player nameWoodburn

  4. squad numbertwenty-oneplayer nameSibbick

  5. squad numberfifteenplayer nameMoore

  6. squad numbertwentyplayer nameSimms

  7. squad numberoneplayer nameGordon

  8. squad number12player nameAtkinson

  9. squad number16player nameHalliday

  10. squad numberelevenplayer nameMackay-Steven

  11. squad number17player nameCochrane

  12. squad number10player nameBoyce

  13. squad number30player nameGinnelly

Ross County

  1. squad number17player nameCharles-Cook

  2. squad numbertwoplayer nameRandall

  3. squad number22player nameTillson

  4. squad number8player nameCallachan

  5. squad number26player nameWhite

  6. squad number16player nameIacovitti

  7. squad number3player nameVokins

  8. squad numberfifteenplayer nameWatson

  9. squad number7player namespittal

  10. squad number4player nameCancola

  11. squad numberoneplayer namelaidlaw

  12. squad number23player namehungbo

  13. squad number6player namePaton

  14. squad number10player nameSamuel

Line-ups

hearts

Formation 3-4-3

  • oneGordon
  • fifteenMoore
  • twenty-oneSibbick
  • 17Cochrane
  • 12Atkinson
  • 5haring
  • 9WoodburnSubstituted forHallidayat 70′minutes
  • elevenMackay-StevenSubstituted forSimmsat 70′minutes
  • 30Ginnelly
  • 10Boyce
  • 18McKay

substitutes

  • 3Kingsley
  • 13Stewart
  • 16Halliday
  • twentySimms
  • 48Thomas
  • 49Tait

Ross County

Formation 4-2-3-1

  • onelaidlaw
  • twoRandall
  • fifteenWatsonBooked at 67mins
  • 16Iacovitti
  • 3Vokins
  • 4Cancola
  • 22TillsonBooked at 59mins
  • 7spittal
  • 8CallachanBooked at 15minsSubstituted forSamuelat 78′minutes
  • 17Charles-CookSubstituted forhungboat 78′minutes
  • 26WhiteSubstituted forPatonat 89′minutes

substitutes

  • 6Paton
  • 10Samuel
  • elevensims
  • 18Burroughs
  • 19Ramsay
  • twentyDrysdale
  • twenty-oneMunro
  • 23hungbo
  • 24Paton

Referee:
Steven McLean

attendance:
16,699

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