Lockdown Football on the TV: Queen of the South 1-1 Heart of Midlothian

Friday 12th February 2021
1 – 1
Kickoff 12/02/2021 19:45

Scottish Championship
Friday 12 February 2021
Stephen McCartney reports (watching on TV)

A last-gasp penalty from striker Liam Boyce ensured runaway Scottish Championship leaders Heart of Midlothian rescued a point at relegation-threatened Queen of the South on a bitterly cold Friday night at Palmerston Park.

The 29-year-old’s emphatic penalty – with only 17 seconds of normal time remaining – ensured Hearts moved 13 points clear of Raith Rovers at the summit.

Queen of the South were a well-organised defensive outfit during the game and they also converted a penalty to take the lead just before half-time.

Ayo Obileye, 26, notched his fifth goal of the season for the Dumfries based side since departing National League South outfit Ebbsfleet United.

Allan Johnston has now seen his Queen of the South side lose just once in their last seven games and move a point above the relegation play-off zone, currently occupied by part-timers Arbroath.

“There were a lot of good performances today,” manager Johnston told BBC Scotland, as his side were agonisingly close to claiming their first win over Hearts since 1963.

“I did say before the game that we would have to work hard to get something from the game – and we done that today.

“At times we had to defend for long periods but we looked really dangerous on the break with the pace.  We’ve got young Dapo (Adedapo Awokoya-Mebude) and Isaiah (Jones) especially causing them all sorts of problems.

“I thought we could probably do a wee bit better with the ball at times so we need to work on that but defensively we looked solid, so it was disappointing to lose a late goal.

“There were a lot of good performances.  We had a lot of tired boys so I’m really happy with them.”

Heart of Midlothian spent most of the game on the front foot and used width well and created their first opening inside the opening six minutes.

Gervane Kastaneer released Jamie Walker on the overlap and his cross was met by winger Gary Mackay-Steven but his towering header cleared the crossbar from 10-yards out.

Injury-hit Queen of the South lost central midfielder Dan Pybus after only 17 minutes, appearing to have pulled his right hamstring after going on a box-to-box penetrating run.

Despite bossing possession, the league leaders took 30 minutes to call Queens goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson into making a save.

MacKay-Steven played the ball in from the right-wing and Jamie Walker unleashed a right-footed angled drive from just inside the box, forcing the keeper to get down low to his left to push the ball behind for a corner.

Queen of the South grabbed the lead two minutes before the break, which was their first shot at goal.

A long ball out of defence released the pacy winger Isaiah Jones down the right and he stuck out his left leg to ensure Hearts left-back Stephen Kingsley clipped him and brought him down in the box.

Holding midfielder Obileye stepped up and sent goalkeeper Craig Gordon the wrong way with a clinical right-footed penalty, just left of centre.

Heart of Midlothian’s dominance was evident by winning the corner count by 12-0, while the home side often relied on Jones’ pace to counter-attack.

They forced five of their corners on the stroke of half-time but each time Mackay-Steven’s deliveries were poor and were comfortably dealt with by a resilient Queens defence.

However, the home side almost grabbed a second goal just before the break when a long ball put lone striker Adedapo Awokoya-Mebude in on goal and after shrugging off the attentions of Hearts’ centre-half Mihai Popescu he stroked his shot just past the foot of the near post.

Queen of the South often put their bodies on the line to protect their lead and this was the case five minutes into the second half.

Boyce slipped a short through ball into the box to put wide-man Walker in but a sliding tackle from centre-half Gregor Buchanan ensure the ball rolled past the post.

Hearts’ right-back Michael Smith nutmegged Queens left-back James Maxwell before being tripped by the outstanding 19-year-old, one of three home players that are on loan from Premiership leaders Rangers.

Andy Irving’s resulting left-footed free-kick from a yard outside the corner of the box arrowed past the far post, as two of his team-mates failed to get the decisive touch of the ball.

Queen of the South hit Hearts on the counter-attack in the 54th minute but Jones shaped to curl his right-footed shot around the far post from 20-yards as the home side came close to doubling their lead.

Hearts continued to fail to break down a defensive-minded Queen of the South unit going into the final 20 minutes.

Queens right-back Willie Gibson floated in a right-footed free-kick into the box but Rhys Breen came up from the back and directed his towering header comfortably bouncing into Gordon’s hands.

But Queen of the South missed a glorious chance to clinch the victory inside the final eight minutes.

The impressive Jones, 21, who was playing Isthmian League football for Tooting & Mitcham United a couple of years ago, was the architect, hitting a crossfield pass from the right into the centre of the pitch where midfielder Euan East cracked a left-footed volley into Gordon’s midriff from 20-yards.

The introduction of attacking substitute Steven Naismith did the trick as Hearts pressed for salvation.

Despite this late pressure, it appeared that Queen of the South had done enough to snatch the vital three points with players continuing to put their bodies on the line to protect their slender lead.

However, one lapse of concentration was punished by the champions-elect.

Referee Colin Steven pointed to the spot for a second time after centre-half Breen went through Boyce’s back inside the box after Naismith threaded a pass from just outside the D.

Goalkeeper Ferguson was sent the wrong way as Boyce drilled his emphatic right-footed penalty into the right corner, scoring his eleventh goal of the campaign (not including the goal he scored in last season's Scottish Cup Final defeat to Celtic which was played in December) with 89:43 on the clock. 

Robbie Neilson blamed the 3G playing surface for his side’s first league draw of the season but they lead the way with 37 points from 16 (of 27) games and are on course of winning promotion back to the Premiership at the first attempt.

They host sixth-placed Greenock Morton next Saturday.

“Not a great performance from us,” admitted the Hearts boss to BBC Scotland, who heads back to Edinburgh on a four-match unbeaten run, despite admitting pre-match that his side trained on an indoor artificial surface at their Oriam training base.

“I think we had a lot of control of the game but look, it’s very difficult to get any quality on this surface.

“It becomes a game of just kick and rush at times, hoping that the ball spins the right way for you.

“Although we controlled a lot of the game, the quality in the final third wasn’t there but to be honest I put it down to this surface.  It’s very difficult to play on.

“Once a team gets back into their shape, they played four at the back and five in midfield, it’s very difficult to break it down on this surface because you have to take the extra touch. The ball spins differently on it.

“I think if you play on a grass pitch, you can play a lot of one-touch football, whereas here you have to take a touch to control it and take a touch to play a pass and it slows the game right down.”

Reflecting on both penalty decisions, Neilson, whose side beat Queen of the South 6-1 on the Tynecastle Park grass back in December, said: “I think the first one, I’ve seen it already, he hangs his leg out looking for the contact, so for me it’s not a penalty. I think, if anything, the boy puts his leg in on our player.

“The second one, I think he goes through the back of him, so I think that’s a definite, so we’re disappointed not to take three points.  Did we do enough to get three points? Probably not.  But it’s another step forward for us to get the league title.”

Queen of the South rose a couple of places and are now seventh (of 10 sides) with 15 points from as many games and travel to Inverness Caledonian Thistle – the side immediately below them in the table - on Wednesday night.

Johnston added: “If you look at the recent performances, I don’t think we started the season well enough, we were miles off it and then we’ve put a recent run of results together and we’ve got a wee bit of momentum and we’ve just got to keep that going.

“You can see we’ve got players that can cause teams problems. We can score goals and obviously, we’re starting to defend better, so there’s a lot of good things.”

Queen of the South:  Rohan Ferguson, Willie Gibson, James Maxwell, Ayo Obileye, Gregor Buchanan, Rhys Breen, Euan East, Dan Pybus (Calvin McGrory 17), Adedapo Awokoya-Mebude (Tommy Goss 90), Nortei Nortey, Isaiah Jones (Niyah Joseph 90).
Subs: Stephen Dobbie, Kieran McKechnie, Dom McMahon, Josh Rae

Goal: Ayo Obileye 43 (penalty)

Heart of Midlothian:  Craig Gordon, Michael Smith, Stephen Kingsley, Andy Halliday (Steven Naismith 81), Craig Halkett, Mihai Popescu, Gary Mackay-Steven, Andy Irving (Euan Henderson 65), Liam Boyce, Gervane Kastaneer (Aaron McEneff 57), Jamie Walker.
Subs: Peter Haring, Christoph Berra, Ross Stewart, Elliott Frear

Goal: Liam Boyce 90 (penalty)

Booked: Craig Halkett 59, Craig Gordon 60, Andy Irving 63

Attendance: 0
Referee:  Mr Colin Steven
Assistants: Mr Daniel McFarlane & Mr Kevin McElkinney
Fourth Official:  Mr David Lowe