THIS was a bruising and biting battle that produced a plethora of heart-stopping moments for the 1000-plus fans of the Tynecastle side who produced a remarkable ninth game without defeat.

But it was a game that ended in controversial circumstances with the Jambos’ Kyle Lafferty red-carded two minutes from the end following a brutal challenge on Graeme Shinnie, scythed to the ground in unacceptable fashion.

It was a challenge Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, did not feel merited an ordering-off, although Derek McInnes disputed his analysis of the incident.

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“It's a red card,” he said. “A manager will always try to defend his players but I don't think it can be defended.

“It's a complete rush of blood and it's not a tackle he needs to make as he has a team-mate there covering. He comes in at 100 miles an hour and his intention is to foul Graeme Shinnie, not win the ball. It's a clear red card.

“I've no issue with Hearts as tackles are there to be made but that one was reckless.”

While the Dons produced yet another performance packed with energy and enthusiasm, not to say skill and pace in all areas of the pitch, Levein admitted his game-plan was to allow them to have the ball and try and hit them on the break.

And he pointed to a piece of history being made as his team completed six clean sheets for the first time ever.

“The players’ names are in the record books,” he said.

“It was a real tough match for us and the players deserve great credit as their work rate was fantastic. We had good chances to win the game as well.

"John Souttar was imperious against Hibs the other night and was just as good again at Pittodrie.

“He is developing into a top centre-half and his composure and passing was excellent.”

The former Dundee United defender has come on to the radar of Derby County, but Levein suggested he could play at a higher level than the English Championship club if he moves on.

He added: "I couldn't rule anything out but I haven't heard anything at all. If he keeps improving then I don't think he'll need to worry about Championships clubs."

"I hadn't planned on playing Don Cowie in all these matches but with all the players that have been injured he had to play. He was in there with two 16-year-olds and he was different class.

"Our goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin made three really good saves too but I would argue our chances were better and had things gone our away it could have been a different outcome.

"I'm thrilled for the boys and the only disappointment was Kyle Lafferty's sending off.

“He is chasing back and in a recovery position when you tackle you have to get it right.

“I thought it was really harsh and it's a particularly sour note for him as we're heading into a break and he'll have that on his mind.

"This is a really difficult place to come and get points, particularly just now. Since the confusion of whether Derek McInnes was leaving or staying has been sorted they've been fantastic and with seven players out we did well to see it out.”

The pounding the Hearts defence underwent for much of this match, and particularly in the second half as the Dons went for broke in an effort to put a bigger gap between themselves and Rangers in the positioning for second place, was not unexpected.

Yet, perhaps the cleanest of scoring chances came from their opponents, David Milinkovic and Esmael Goncalves each bursting through on goal in the opening forty-five minutes only for Joe Lewis, the Aberdeen goalkeeper to freak them out as he charged forward to dare them to pick their spot. They couldn’t.

But the Portuguese striker, fast and strong and capable of brushing off the attention of Kari Arnason and Scott McKenna, two capable centre-backs, was presented with further opportunities in the second half only to toss them away.

Levein seemed unfazed by such largesse.

From McInnes, ready to take his hard-working players to the sunshine of Dubai next week where they’ll play a closed-doors game against Lokomotiv Tashkent of Uzbekistan, there was a philosophical acceptance that they had given everything against a team content to defend in number and hope to inflict damage on the counter.

He had praise for Jon McLaughlin, who produced a stunning first-half save from Adam Rooney and later from Scott McKenna, a powerful header that looked to have beaten the goalkeeper.

“His save from Rooney is as good as you will see,” McInnes insisted. “You can see why Hearts have kept so many clean sheets recently.

“They are resilient and came here to be a counter-attacking team and frustrate us.

“The save Joe Lewis had to make in the first half was due to us not playing in the right areas but once we got our full backs overlapping I thought we controlled the game.”

McInnes is optimistic about the second phase of the season as his squad, with several new faces added in the summer, maintains their grip on second place in the Premiership.

And with Niall McGinn back in the fold after a four-month spell in South Korea that didn’t go well, he is in no hurry to add more recruits.