A win that could prove to be absolutely huge in the context of the season was chiselled out at Pittodrie by the Dons, recovering from a tepid first half to produce a whirlwind second period and complete a thoroughly deserved comeback victory over Hearts.
There were two changes to the Aberdeen starting XI from Wednesday night, Jack Milne getting a first league start and Ester Sokler returning up front, Angus MacDonald and Duk on the bench.
Hearts lost 1-0 to Rangers at Tynecastle on Wednesday evening, and made three changes for the game, Alex Lowry, Toby Sibbick and Kenneth Vargas returning to the side at the expense of Nathaniel Atkinson, Jorge Grant and Kyosuke Tagawa.
On a grey, wet afternoon at Pittodrie, Hearts won the game’s first corner on four minutes, Kingsley winning the header but his effort was weak and made for a comfortable save for Kelle Roos. Kent was very late on Sokler after six minutes but surprisingly he escaped without a booking.
It was 16 minutes in before Aberdeen put Hearts under pressure, instigated by a nice pass from Graeme Shinnie. Jonny Hayes was onto it to send in an early cross, the ball eventually reaching Jamie McGrath whose shot was blocked by Kent. Neither side was getting much time on the ball to create, both teams closing down their opponents as quickly as possible all over the pitch.
But after 20 minutes, the Dons were undone from a set piece again, Shankland given a free header from a Cochrane corner, nodding in from three yards out at at the back post to give Hearts an all too easy lead.
Hearts were in the ascendancy now, opening the Dons up on 28, a neat passing move getting Shankland away, Nicky Devlin producing a diving header to clear his cross. Devlin then got McGrath on his way a couple of minutes later, but his pull back was behind the Aberdeen strikers on the box and the danger was snuffed out.
Good possession play from Aberdeen ended with Nieuwenhof going into the book on 33 for a rugby tackle on Shinnie out on the right. From the free-kick, Aberdeen were inches away from an equaliser as Hayes spotted Leighton Clarkson coming into space on the edge of the box, his first time shot just slipping past the post.
The Dons were starting to pick up the pace now though, a Hayes cross deflected behind after 37 minutes. The corner was cleared but Clarkson was able to return it into the box and another flag kick was won, Clark claiming it unchallenged. Lowry was booked four minutes later for a high boot on Devlin.
Aberdeen were playing much more of the game in the visitors’ half now, Shinnie trying his luck from 30 yards three minutes before the break, the shot drifting wide of the target.
HALF-TIME: ABERDEEN 0 HEARTS 1
There was a brighter start to the second half from the Dons, Sokler, Bojan Miovski and Shinnie combining well, Shinnie stabling in a cross that Miovski couldn’t quite control at the near post.
Richard Jensen had everyone on their feet on 52 minutes, a thunderous strike from 25 yards that looked bound for the top corner until Clark produced a brilliant save.
But the goal did come a minute later, Miovski doing the job. McGrath wriggled into the Hearts box and was bundled over but was still able to prod the ball to Miovski who produced a laser guided shot across the face of goal and inside the far post to square things up.
That forced Hearts into a double change on 58 minutes, Grant and Tagawa replacing Vargas and Lowry. Gartenmann was next to go into the book.
McGrath found another important pass forward on the hour, setting Sokler away but from a tight angle, he fired into the side netting when perhaps he might have been better served by going back across the goalkeeper, where Miovski was following in.
It was symptomatic of much better football from Aberdeen in the second half though.
A late challenge from Baningime on McGrath on 63 minutes caused an outbreak of pushing and shoving between the players, the Hearts man collecting a yellow card. Kent was carded for his part in the aftermath, as was Miovski.
McGrath curled an effort from 20 yards just wide on 68, the move started by Gartenmann stepping up and intercepting a pass before getting Aberdeen onto the front foot, testimony to a much more aggressive second half display.
Another double change for Hearts on 72, Halkett and Denholm the additions, Sibbick and Nieuwenhof going off. Rowles was booked a minute later for hauling Shinnie down on the counter-attack. Shayden Morris and Duk then replaced Milne and Sokler, only for Miovski to need treatment a couple of minutes later, Dante Polvara having to come on for him. McGrath was in the book on 78 minutes for a foul on Cochrane.
Into the last ten minutes and Gartenmann took a whack in the face from Rowles’ arm as they challenged for the ball on the edge of the Hearts box, opening up a cut over Gartenmann’s eye. Lengthy treatment followed, the Dane’s head swathed in a red bandage before he could continue.
Duk had a sight of goal on 86, shuffling into position on the edge of the box as the rain poured down, but he could only put his drive into the gloves of Clark. Denholm soon became Hearts’ fifth booking of the afternoon for a swipe at Polvara.
On 89, Gartenmann hoisted a high ball into the Hearts box, two defenders getting in each other’s way. Duk tried to backheel the loose ball into the path of Clarkson but got it all wrong and the chance was gone. It was Duk again in the first of eight added minutes, Morris skipping away from Cochrane and producing a terrific cross, Duk’s diving header glancing across goal and wide of the post.
Duk wasn’t giving it up though and on 92, he chased forward at inside-right to get onto a lovely ball forward from Devlin, perfectly weighted for his run. Drawing Clark towards him, Duk squared for Clarkson, coming in at the back post to roll the ball into the net for 2-1.
Hearts, barely in the game in the second half, rallied and immediately won a couple of corners, the second drawing a foul on Jensen and a booking for dissent for Grant. Six bookings now for the Edinburgh side, with Sibbick and Shankland both very lucky to have avoided cards too. MacDonald then replaced McGrath in the 97th minute.
Devlin had to be sharp to concede a corner a minute later, but the Dons saw this one out to safety, the three massive points secured.
2 minutes added at end 1st half,
8+2 minutes added at end 2nd half.