07 October 2020 00:47
It was not the kind of emphatic victory that Hearts had been looking for following an encouraging drawn-out pre-season. Nevertheless, Jamie Walker's second-half penalty, which was perhaps awarded rather fortuitously for handball by Cameron Harper, saw the hosts claim the three Betfred Cup Group A points at Inverness's expense. Hearts dominated possession and created plentiful chances. However, there were also times when they were exposed at the other end. They had goalkeeper Craig Gordon to thank at the start of the match for pulling off a stunning block to deny Daniel Mackay, while Caley substitute Nikolay Todorov lacked poise when he lashed a volley wide from a great position late on.
"I really enjoyed the game," said Hearts manager Robbie Neilson. "There were periods I thought we did really well and periods we were a bit slack but that's understandable when you've not played for so long." Much has changed in the 209 days that have elapsed since Hearts' fateful defeat to Mirren on their last outing. Never mind what the world looks like, this is now the 'new normal' at the Gorgie club. A new dugout incumbent and new players, so many that there were only two survivors from the team that started against the Buddies, Craig Halkett and Steven Naismith. The indignation over their enforced relegation from the curtailed has softened, although their desire to get back to the Premiership at the first attempt is palpable. The start of the league is still to come, Dundee the visitors a week on Friday. It was Betfred Cup action at Tynecastle last night against Inverness, a team that finished second in last season's truncated second tier. At Hearts boss Robbie Neilson's quest crowd noise was played through the PA system during this game. That might have been a problem for those compiling the audio if the sound was taken from any last season's home games at Tynecastle, for the players were used to jeers raining down from the stands amid a wretched campaign. The noise might not have been in sync with what was happening on the pitch but Hearts seamlessly moved through the gears in the early stages. Just two minutes had gone by when on loan Preston winger Josh Ginnelly tore past Cameron Harper to set up two back-to-back attempts on goal, although both Craig Wighton and Steven Naismith were denied by Mark Ridgers. Gordon's save at the other end three minutes later trumped that, however. Some 18 years to the day after making his debut in his first stint at Hearts, the former Celtic keeper dived to his left to brilliantly deny a point blank bouncing header fromMackay, who connected with Shane Sutherland's cross. Gordon also had to get down to Scott Allardice's free kick, while Ginnelly brought out a save in Ridgers before team-mate Craig Halkett headed over. In the main, anything good from Hearts came through Ginnelly on the right flank. What would not have pleased Inverness manager John Robertson was the fact that his players seemed to adhere to the two metre distancing rule when they were near him. Hearts upped the tempo in the second half as they continued their search for the breakthrough goal. Jamie Brandon had a close range drive expertly saved by Ridgers before Olly Lee and Mihai Popescu both went close. The goal eventually arrived in the 62nd minute when Walker slotted home a penalty. The incident that led to the spot-kick was harsh on the visitors, Harper unable to get out of the way of Halkett's shot. "It's disappointing because I think he's (referee Steven McLean) guessed it," said Robertson. "Under the new regulations - and we were all on the Zoom call, it's not a penalty. "In terms of the game I thought our young lads were magnificent and worked really hard and created chances and Craig Gordon made a fabulous save. "I'm disappointed to lose that way." Hearts did not care, however, and on the balance of play the hosts probably deserved it. Neilson turned to his bench to freshen up his side after the goal, handing debuts to Jordan Roberts, Andy Halliday and Stephen Kingsley, who had only signed just hours before kick off. Todorov ensured those turning out in a maroon jersey for the first time marked their debuts with a win when he hit his aforementioned effort wide in the 84th minute. Hearts 1-0 Inverness CT: Josh Ginnelly the pick of new Hearts signings as Jamie Walker strikes Betfred Cup winner Disputed penalty proves decisive as Inverness waste chances Jamie Walker's penalty was enough for Hearts to beat Inverness. Six new signings took their Hearts bows as Inverness Caledonian Thistle were beaten in the opening Betfred Cup group tie. Both teams were playing their first competitive match in seven months, which was settled in the second half by Jamie Walker's disputed penalty. Sign up to our daily newsletter The i newsletter cut through the noise Sign up Thanks for signing up! Sorry, there seem to be some issues. Please try again later. Submitting... Referee Steven McLean penalised the teenage Inverness left-back Cameron Harper for handling Josh Ginnelly's shot and Walker dispatched the spot-kick. Ginnelly, on loan from Preston North End, looked the pick of Hearts' new arrivals. Left-back Stephen Kingsley signed earlier in the day and enjoyed the last 15 minutes as a substitute. Exactly 18 years to the day since his first Hearts debut, goalkeeper Craig Gordon returned to play at Tynecastle Park. It was clear within minutes that his instinctive reactions remain intact at the age of 37 with a stunning save from teenager Daniel McKay's powerful header. In front of Gordon was the recently-signed Romanian centre-back Mihai Popescu. He is still finding match fitness but won't be short of action with John Souttar and Christophe Berra injured. Ginnelly was the third home debutant and started on the right flank. He was Hearts' biggest threat – direct, quick and dangerous from the off as colleagues constantly fed him the ball to run at the 18-year-old Harper. The visiting manager John Robertson, of course, needs no introduction at Tynecastle. He brought four other ex-Hearts employees from the Highlands in goalkeeper Mark Ridgers, defender Brad McKay, plus substitute strikers James Keatings and Nikolai Todorov. He also granted debuts to new defenders Wallace Duffy and Robbie Deas, plus midfielder Scott Allardice in a team containing five players under 21 – three of them teenagers. Both goalkeepers made early saves, Gordon's the most impressive to stop MacKay. Hearts striker Craig Wighton was out to showcase his credentials at centre-forward with Liam Boyce away on international duty. He struck the crossbar on 32 minutes following one of Ginnelly's umpteen crosses. Ginnelly remained a continual danger and another of his deliveries fell for Andy Irving on 35 minutes, only for Wallace to block the midfielder's shot. Hearts were the better side but Inverness should have gone ahead just before the break. The unmarked Deas volleyed wide near the back post from a corner when he ought to have scored. Ridgers displayed his own reactions early in the second period to deny Jamie Brandon as the hosts tried to covert sustained pressure into a breakthrough. They succeeded on the hour mark. Walker stepped up to confidently stroke home from 12 yards after a controversial penalty award. Harper protested that the ball did not strike his arm in an unnatural position, but to no avail. Jordan Roberts and Andy Halliday then entered the fray for the first time in Hearts colours. A former Inverness loanee, Roberts has much to offer in both a physical and technical sense. Kingsley soon joined them. Had there been fans inside the stadium, the Tynecastle roar would have reached deafening levels when Peter Haring emerged from the bench on 82 minutes. The Austrian's 16-month injury absence is finally over. Home fans would also have groaned in dismay at two late chances for the Inverness substitute Todorov. Both finished off target but the Bulgarian should have at least taken this tie to penalties.