Aberdeen 1 - 0 Hearts: Hearts get a dressing down
THREE points for Aberdeen… two red cards for Hearts… and a repair bill winging its way to Edinburgh for damage done to the away dressing room – shattered glass in a door, we hear. A match was won and tempers were lost. As far as sedate post-Christmas affairs go, this wasn't one.
These are the bare facts. Lee Miller scored a beautiful winner for Aberdeen. Lee Wallace was summoned to the referee's room after the game and shown the red card. Iain Brines had sent off Marius Zaliukas in the second-half. Now Wallace and Zaliukas will miss the Edinburgh derby.
"I don't think about so many red cards," said Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo. "I think about what we can do in the next game. But I am sorry for Lee Wallace. He's a young player. He must learn to calm down. After the game there are so many emotions. I think there were a lot of funny things in the game."
It wasn't a damp squib at Pittodrie yesterday. There was plenty of commotion. Christophe Berra was a man frustrated but chose calm words like his manager in the aftermath. "Aberdeen have been in good form and we've got to take it on the chin. Our good run has come to an end but we'll pick ourselves up and there's no better way to do that than in a derby game. It wasn't our best performance. I'll support my team-mates and we've got to be positive."
That's five home wins on the trot for Aberdeen. Miller's superb first-half strike ensured the three points for Jimmy Calderwood's side who were the better team and created the lion's share of chances.
"It was an important win for us," said Calderwood. "We're trying to get into third place. We've had a wee bit of illness in the camp. There was a lot of coughing and spluttering in the dressing room."
Both dressing rooms were full of suffering it seems. "I thought it was a deserved victory. Hearts are a difficult team to play against. I thought the referee handled a difficult game very well."
Pittodrie was lively yesterday and busy too. It was good to see such a packed crowd. The fans were treated to an entertaining and – eventually – ill-tempered match. Referee Brines seemed to be forever picking cards from his pocket.
A struggling Lee Mair could only make the Aberdeen bench while Richard Foster returned at right-back and did a very good job keeping Andrew Driver quiet. Charlie Mulgrew was injured in the first minute and had to be replaced by Andrew Considine. Soon Darren Mackie was one-on-one with Janos Balogh but a gilt-edged opportunity was wasted as the Aberdeen striker shot straight at the Hearts keeper. Then Mackie produced a decent low drive from the edge of the area for Balogh to make an excellent save. Berra then received the first booking of the game for a challenge on Miller.
Jeffrey de Visscher flashed a fine shot just wide of the post and Gary McDonald tried his luck with a long-range effort that Balogh caught easily. Aberdeen were having the better of it and the goalkeeping services of Jamie Langfield were not much called for.
The hosts took the lead with a superb piece of skill from Miller. Scott Severin's free-kick reached Miller on the far side and his technique was perfect as the striker hooked an unstoppable shot into the opposite corner of the net. It was special. It was mirrored in the celebrations of the Dons players who crowded the scorer with their congratulations.
Calderwood said Miller's goal was "fit to win any game". Miller said he'd been practising it. "Sometimes things you work on in the training ground come off. It felt sweet. It's a massive result for us. Hearts were on a good run. These are always feisty occasions. It was a strange game – more of a battle than anything else."
Mackie and Zaliukas were booked. Now both Hearts centre-halves were sitting on cautions. The second half started sluggishly. Aberdeen seemed content with what they had. Hearts weren't showing anything new to test the home defence.
Sone Aluko tied the Hearts defence in knots and slipped his cross to the near post where Miller was lurking but he couldn't get the right sort of contact on it. Severin spotted a gap and threaded a long pass to Miller who turned inside and unleashed a solid drive but Balogh did well to bat it way.
Hearts won a couple of corners. From the second of them, it all kicked off in the Aberdeen box. There was pushing and shoving and nearly everyone seemed to be involved in some fashion. When the fracas died down Brines booked Nade and Zaliukas. The latter had to go. Then Miller was booked too.
Hearts were seriously up against it. Considine was carded for a shove on Driver. The referee's book was fast filling up. Aberdeen broke quickly and De Visscher played a glorious ball to Mackie who went down in the box. The Aberdeen fans screamed for a penalty but no award was given. As the men in red complained, Severin received his yellow card.
The visitors were doing more defending than they would have liked.
Hearts looked for that final chance but it didn't come. Aberdeen had posted another positive result. There was more arguing as the teams made their way to the tunnel. Brines waved players away. But he wasn't done yet.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jeffrey de Visscher put in a strong performance for Aberdeen and was the source of a lot of good but Lee Miller snatches the prize for a well-crafted match-winner that was very easy on the eye.
Marius Zaliukas was sent off for the second time this season and, with Lee Wallace also being sent off after the final whistle, that's seven red cards in total for Hearts this campaign. The crime count is rising.
The size of the crowd. It was heart-warming to witness such a large turnout at Pittodrie. There was plenty of optimism about the old place. Scottish football felt good yesterday.