A game of high drama as Hearts held on to beat a spirited Dons side. The league leaders dominated the first half and deservedly found themselves two up, playing some very good football, but the second on the stroke of half time was thanks to very debatable penalty. Aberdeen looked a different side after the break when McGinn and Wright came on. They had a real attacking threat. Mackay-Steven pulled a goal back from the spot and a brilliant save was needed to stop him getting a late equaliser, one that Aberdeen probably deserved for their second half showing which included a Joe Lewis penalty save.
Aberdeen made just the one change for the game against the league leaders. A fit again James Wilson replaced Connor McLennan. The bench was strengthened with the return of Niall McGinn and Scott Wright.
The home side put some early pressure on down the right and won a corner in the second minute. As the ball came over there was a lot of pushing and shoving but the referee waved play on. Aberdeen failed to clear their lines and were forced to concede a second corner. This time the ball was played to Demetri Mitchell, he was completely unmarked on the edge of the area, and although he did not connect properly with his shot, it was very nearly turned in at the back post by Arnaud Djoum. A major let off early on for the Dons.
In the seventh minute Lewis just managed to push a cross clear with MacLean putting on pressure. The former Dons striker was having a major influence on proceedings. Another corner saw a lot of pushing and shoving and players falling to the ground, referee Kevin Clancy was struggling to deal with the situation. This time Devlin headed away and Mitchell from long range fired a shot over the bar.
In the tenth minute Dom Ball was booked for a foul. He was very unlucky as the ball had gone out of play and despite the near side linesman Alastair Mather being a few yards away from the incident, he never raised his flag. Having made a booking so early in game, it set the tone.
In the 12th minute, Aberdeen finally had an attacking position when they won a free kick 40 yards out - Ball's delivery was poor though. Aberdeen were having to work very hard as Hearts were winning all the second balls and were well on top in the middle of the park.
On 16 minutes a deflected Djoum shot won the home side corner number four. Devlin cleared twice, his second clearance found James Wilson who played a delightful early ball looking for Mackay-Steven. The winger got himself one on one with Marcus Godinho but the Hearts man made a vital tackle inside the area. Great vision from Wilson though.
18 minutes in, a yellow card for Djoum for a late tackle on Ferguson. Then GMS picked up a yellow card after he had failed to control a cross field pass. The game was being played at an incredible tempo. Aberdeen then had to withstand another five minutes of pressure as four dangerous crosses came over.
In the 23rd minute Naismith at the back post might have done better, instead he went to ground looking for a penalty. Joe Lewis then had to receive treatment, a really worrying moment - hopefully the keeper was just using his experience to take the sting out of the game. Hearts had been playing a really high intensity game. They were also playing really well.
On the half hour mark Godinho was booked for a foul on Shinnie. Referee Clancy was struggling to keep control as there was so much going on.
On 32 minutes nice play released Wilson on the left but his control let him down. Every other touch Wilson had made up to that point had been quality. Hearts then won a free kick on the edge of the area which they took quickly. Considine was forced to make a brilliant tackle to keep out Naismith.
After 34 minutes Aberdeen won their first corner. Mitchell then needlessly gave away a second, but Aberdeen could not win the second or third ball in the air.
Just when the visitors appeared to be getting a foothold in the game, Hearts took the lead. On 36 minutes Considine was the latest player to be booked. From the free kick the ball was played wide to Callum Morrison and his cross was flicked into the net by Arnaud Djoum who had run off his marker.
Hearts were now well on top with their supporters in full voice. It was requiring cool heads if Aberdeen were going to survive till half time, unfortunately the same could not be said for the officials who awarded a penalty on 42 minutes when Naismith loudly appealed for a penalty when he fell to the ground after a tussle with Lewis Ferguson as the ball came over from a corner. At first glance, it looked an incredibly soft decision. The Aberdeen players were furious. Devlin was booked for his protests.
The referee actually revealed afterwards that he gave the penalty for handball against Ferguson.
Naismith took it and scored, doing down the middle.
At half time the Aberdeen management team joined in the protests.
During the interval Niall McGinn and Scott Wright came on for Dom Ball and Sam Cosgrove. Niall got Aberdeen's first shot on target after 47 minutes but keeper Zlamal made a comfortable save. The same player then put over a dangerous cross but GMS slipped at the back post as he went for it. On 51 minutes fine play by Scott Wright released McGinn who then saw his cross cleared.
On 54 minutes a lovely ball down the line by Lowe released McGinn and when he drew the foul from Dikamona the referee again pointed to the spot. There were no protests from the Hearts players. Mackay-Steven stepped forward and put Zlamal the wrong way. Aberdeen were back in the game.
Just before the hour mark Dikamona was booked as Shinnie broke forward. It was a promising break. Then Aberdeen put over a dangerous cross but the ball just fell behind Devlin.
The second half was a completely different game and Aberdeen looked a different side. They were the ones now posing the questions for Hearts. Aberdeen then wasted a couple of good opportunities. McGinn's cutback failed to pick out a white shirt and then a GMS free kick was over hit.
On 61 minutes a Hearts change. Sean Clare replaced Steven MacLean, who had a really good game. Scott Wright, who was finding space, produced a lovely turn on the half way line but could not thread the ball through to McGinn. Then a cross was flicked on by Wilson and GMS's shot was extremely well blocked by Dikamona.
On 65 minutes Hearts should have scored a third when Naismith stood up a cross for Djoum but his header from point blank range was straight at Lewis.
After 68 minutes Lewis Ferguson was booked. Then a few minutes later Steven Naismith was booked for a foul on Ferguson. The game was well poised with 15 minutes to go.
What a chance Aberdeen then wasted. Shinnie, after another brilliant flick by Wilson, drove at the centre of the Hearts defence. When he was tackled the ball spun up for Wilson who had time but the striker sliced a left footed shot wide.
On 76 minutes James Wilson was replaced by Stevie May - the Dons final change.
Before he could get a touch of the ball Kevin Clancy had awarded another penalty to Hearts. He saw a foul by Shay Logan and booked the Aberdeen player. This time though Lewis produced a brilliant save to keep out Naismith. Could Aberdeen make Hearts pay for the miss?
With ten minutes to go Aberdeen forced a couple of corners and GMS pulled a quite brilliant save from Zlamal. His first time low curling shot was heading into the corner but the keeper diving full stretch got his fingertips on it. An outstanding stop.
Aberdeen then worked some good openings, but they could not get a shot away. Scott Wright did manage to get a shot on target, but it was weak and easily clutched by Zlamal. The Dons pushed hard but the three minutes of added time came and went.
A very good second half performance from the visitors but it was not enough and once again they were left to rue a highly controversial decision.