Hearts 2 – 1 Ross Co

Hearts ended the calendar year with a 2-1 win over Ross County thanks to goals from Michael Smith and Ben Woodburn.

The pair scored in a completely dominant first half for the hosts which also saw John Souttar hitting the goal frame twice.

But a better performance by Hearts-lined visitors becoming inattentive saw the county reenact one through Jordan White in the 72nd minute.

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Hearts Ben Woodburn sees his shot deflected against Ross County

The win keeps Hearts third in the standings five points clear of Motherwell in the Premiership, while the Staggies remain tenth, two points from the relegation zone.

It was the perfect start for the hosts who took the lead in four minutes.

Woodburn gave Harry Clarke a nutmeg before choosing Barrie McKay. The striker’s first shot was blocked by Ross Laidlaw’s feet, but Smith calmly stroked the rebound past the keeper from close range.

This set the tone for a dominant first-half performance which saw the hosts create a handful of chances.

Woodburn shot wide before Aaron McEneff saw a half volley blocked by Laidlaw on a precise delivery from McKay.

Hearts were putting themselves in great positions, but their execution was disappointing them.

McKay hit a deflected off-target before McEneff pulled a right-footed shot from raking Peter Haring’s diagonal pass.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 26: Jordan White and Joseph Hungbo of Ross County celebrate 2-1 during a Cinch Premiership match between Hearts and Ross County at Tynecastle Stadium, on December 26, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
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Jordan White scored a consolation for Ross County

Their prolificacy continued as Smith tiptoed to a good chance against the billboards from inside the area before a reactionary shot from Souttar from a corner was knocked off the crossbar.

But Hearts finally doubled their lead in the 42nd minute with Woodburn.

The loaner Liverpool forward ran towards the retreating Clarke and his 20-yard effort sent Laidlaw in the wrong direction after taking a large detour from the defender.

Just before half-time Souttar had another attempt to hit the goal frame after hitting his head on a McKay free-kick.

County manager Malky Mackay brought Jack Burroughs for David Cancola during half-time before Hearts were forced into a change when Craig Halkett limped off, with Stephen Kingsley entering.

Jamie Walker also came off the bench for Hearts and the attacking midfielder was involved in a shot that was saved by Laidlaw.

The county improved after half-time and got back into the game in the 72nd when White cut their deficit in half.

Joe Hungbo’s low cross was first hit on the net by the imposing striker.

The county built up the pressure in the final stages and Clarke had a sharp drive from inside the area pushed behind by Gordon, but Hearts held out to claim all the loot.

What the managers said …

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson: “I thought we played really well in the first half and we should have increased more, but when it’s 2-0, I know it’s a cliché, the next goal is always the most important.

“We didn’t get it, Ross County did it and it got a little edgy in the end.

“It was about getting the three points and we knew it would be difficult without fans here.

“It was about trying to bring that energy.

“I’m sure fans sitting around the house, watching it on their laptops or on TV, that second half will have been a bit of a hassle.

“While when I’m here, there is intensity, there is fun.”

Malky Mackay, Chief of Ross County: “It was a story of two halves.

“I don’t think we can allow a good team like Hearts to start like that and we can’t start like we normally would.

“In the second half we had 14 threesomes, and how we never scored in the end I’ll never know.

“So we could have gotten a point, we should have gotten a point. That said, Hearts could have been out of sight at half-time.

“We have to make sure we start against the best teams much better than we did.”

Hearts return from their winter break with a home game against St Johnstone on January 18th.

Ross County will be home to Motherwell fit that same night.

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