The home side started with the same team which drew 0-0 with Ross County last Friday. Talisman Jon Daly was only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench while Gary Mackay-Stevens remains unavailable due to injury.
Darren Barr dropped back into centre-back to partner Marius Zaliukas in place of the injured Andy Webster for Hearts. Ryan Stevenson took up Barr’s usual midfield berth while Callum Paterson overcame a knock which saw him miss training at the beginning of the week to start as the lone striker.
Both sides opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation which produced a sterile opening period. Scott Robinson’s shot from just outside the area after 24 minutes was well saved by Radoslaw Cierzniak in the only noteworthy piece of action.
Although United sought to transform into a 4-3-3 when on the attack they failed to create any real chances and were profligate with a number of set pieces they had in the half.
It was Hearts who grew into the game and the visitors took the lead somewhat fortuitously in the 29th minute. Keith Watson’s clearance from Robinson’s cross fell to Danny Grainger on the left-wing. The Hearts left back volleyed back into the box and a poor clearance from Sean Dillon was punished by Paterson as he fired a left footed strike into the bottom right hand corner from 18 yards.
The Gorgie club doubled their lead two minutes later thanks to a wonderful strike from Arvydas Novikovas. The Lithuanian found himself in space 25 yards from goal and curled a shot with the outside of his left foot into the bottom right hand corner, with Cierzniak rooted to the spot. While it was a terrific individual effort, Peter Houston will be furious at his defenders for failing to close down the midfielder.
MacDonald held well from Gunning’s glancing header and again from an Armstrong effort from the edge of the area to preserve Hearts’ lead going into the break.
United almost pulled a goal back shortly after the re-start; however, Gunning‘s header was this time denied by the cross-bar and Rankin’s follow up fizzed past the post.
Despite United coming close either side of half time it was Hearts who added to their lead to all but guarantee the three points on the hour mark. Dillon played a short back pass to Cierzniak and although the ‘keeper beat McGowan to the ball his clearance fell to Paterson. The Hearts youngster gratefully passed the ball into the open net via the post to score his second of the game.
Hearts created chances to add to their lead in the closing half-hour as the score-line bestowed a confidence in the Edinburgh side while draining that of the hosts’. However, John Sutton’s inability to convert from 6 yards and Cerzniak’s excellent save from a Zaliukas volley ensured the score line remained at 0-3.
Ryan McGowan saw his effort roll wide of Cerzniak’s post as the game drew to a close.
The result, which sees Hearts climb above United and into fifth in the table, should ease any premature pressure on John McGlynn and the performance of youngsters Scott Robinson and Callum Paterson in particular will give the Jambos cause for optimism.
The absence of the creativity provided by Mackay-Stevens was obvious for United today and it is now three games without a goal for the tangerines. Jon Daly, who made his return to action as a substitute this afternoon, will provide them with a greater threat in the coming weeks but the optimism felt following their 3-0 win over Dundee last month has begun to dissipate.
Dundee United: Cierzniak; McLean, Watson, Dillon, Gunning; Flood, Rankin, Armstrong, Dow (Gauld 58’), Gardyne (Daly 58’); Russell.
Unused subs: Banks, Ryan, Millar, Vignal, Hilson
Hearts: MacDonald; Grainger, R. McGowan, Zaliukas, Barr; Stevenson, Taouil (D. McGowan 85’), Novikovas, Robinson, Carrick (Driver 73’); Paterson (Sutton 79’)
Unused subs: Enckleman, Smith, Tapping, McHattie