It is not often that the worlds of rock music and Scottish football collide.

Well, apart from when Craig Brown sticks on his Thin Lizzy LP. Yet the dulcet tones of AC/DC's Highway to Hell which boomed out pre-match at Tynecastle seemed appropriate given the downward path Hearts have slowly stumbled their way along. While the swirling wind and relentless downpour may have made those in attendance feel as if they were there already, the punishing conditions only served to offer a bleak backdrop as the Edinburgh club's last leg to the SPFL Championship was accelerated hastily.

In a 2-1 defeat which triggered a flurry of perplexed journalists to scratch their heads in bemusement as they attempted to tot up how far Hearts are from being relegated officially, there was a collective acceptance that the inevitable is now not far away.

Loading article content

Gary Locke's inexperienced lot looked the slightly more measured last night as proceedings began in a blustery Edinburgh, only for any hope of the Hearts manager's first three points since January to be swept away by the torrid force that is Nadir Ciftci, following an opener from Brian Graham. It was a game which typified a season that started out with hope but is destined to finish in desolation.

"We're not naive enough or stupid enough to think that this wasn't going to happen," said Locke, who could potentially see his side relegated by Hibernian in next Sunday's derby if other results fall into line. "Nobody needs to tell me the importance of an Edinburgh derby. We've just got to make sure we get a good result for the supporters."

Jackie McNamara made five changes to a team which left it late against St Mirren last weekend; the Dundee United manager putting faith in the three substitutes who turned that game around - Graham, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Dow. He also brought Mark Wilson and Sean Dillon in as Keith Watson, John Souttar, Ryan Gauld, Farid El Alagui and the ill Gary Mackay-Steven all made way. David Smith took the place of Brad McKay for Hearts.

Much of the early play was lacking in any sort of quality or composure, with both teams opting to lash 25-yard efforts at random members of the public in the stands. Hearts' Kevin McHattie was the only one who managed the extraordinary feat of getting one on target after 14 minutes of trying.

For all of their faults, though, it was the home side who carved out the first chance of the match. Callum Paterson, spending his evening at right-back, salvaged a loose ball at the edge of the United area. His nudged pass just about found its way to Dale Carrick, with the youngster spinning away from Gavin Gunning at the edge of the area to fire low and straight at Radoslaw Cierzniak, who shinned the ball to safety.

Yet even though Paterson was an asset down the flanks whenever Hearts did manage to get forward, the 19-year-old found himself tied in knots when United made the breakthrough following a period of sustained possession. Dow's trickery allowed him to jink inside Paterson out wide, putting the Hearts man on his backside in the process, before picking out Andrew Robertson. The former Queen's Park full-back then made his way to the byeline to drill a low ball across the line for Graham, who smashed it into the roof of the net from two yards out.

United's eye for goal continued to drift in and out of focus as the sight of MacDonald's goal came into view frequently in the early part of the second half. Firstly, a Graham pass fed Robertson whose low left-foot drive from 18 yards was parried well, before Ciftci spurned a glorious chance just seconds later.

The United forward did well to hurdle the flailing leg of McHattie to drive into the box, yet his good work was undone as he guided a weak shot just beyond the left-hand post with Graham unmarked. Armstrong and Ciftci, again, would both be unsuccessful shortly afterwards.

Despite their profligacy early on, United's enigmatic approach to attacking football began to look more assured as the second half progressed. A glancing Dow header just past the far post after 65 minutes was a warning across the bow for Hearts, but little could have prepared the home defence for what was to follow six minutes later as Ciftci grabbed the second. A slack ball out of defence by Danny Wilson was intercepted by Dow, who fed the Turk to allow him to weave his way round three beleaguered Hearts defenders and bend a wonderful swerving shot from the edge of the box high beyond MacDonald.

It was a shame for Locke that it was not until the game was beyond his Hearts team that they attempted to reach out and grab it. Within five minutes of Ciftci's 14th goal of the season, Wilson, keen to make up for his gaffe moments earlier, grabbed his fourth goal of the campaign, the defender glancing a corner from Sam Nicholson into the net.

"We had enough chances to finish the game early on but we're just delighted to get the three points," said McNamara, whose United side have gone within four points of third-place Motherwell having played a game more. "Perhaps our decision-making in the final third wasn't what it should have been."