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Aberdeen 1 Hearts 1: Positive thinking

THE Hearts players, some of whom are packing their bags for pastures unknown, put the uncertainty hanging over the club to one side in an effort to thank the 1000 supporters who made the trip to Aberdeen to show solidarity in such difficult times.

Hearts' Jamie Hamill lies prostrate after handing Aberdeen an equaliser with his own goal Photograph: SNS
Hearts' Jamie Hamill lies prostrate after handing Aberdeen an equaliser with his own goal Photograph: SNS

Tynecastle manager Gary Locke insisted after his side ended the season with a draw – a Jamie Hamill own goal cancelled out Ryan Stevenson's opener – that he will fire ahead with his plans for next term as he awaits the outcome of an SPL board meeting tomorrow, stating he is confident his team will still be playing in the top flight next season.

A points deduction which could be applied as punishment for the financial difficulties of the club's Lithuanian parent company, UBIG, which has asked to be declared insolvent, would send Hearts into the First Division.

However, Locke acknowledges such matters are out of his hands. "It's been a difficult week," he admitted. "But we're paid to play football and you can see with the size of support we had today what the club means to them. We wanted a result for those fans. It's been a long season for us. There's been a lot going on and I'm glad to see the back of it, to be honest.

"But I am confident we'll be in the SPL next season. That's what I'm building the squad towards. I'll be working hard behind the scenes, as I have been doing, trying to rebuild for next season. I am not worried. I can only concentrate on what happens on the pitch and I can't influence anything that happens off it."

Hearts must, however, consider themselves fortunate to have escaped Pittodrie with a point. They were pummelled by their hosts for much of the match, but goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald produced a five-star display that prompted head-scratching in the Aberdeen dug-out as its occupants wondered if there was going to be any way past him.

It became clear as soon as referee Crawford Allan signalled the start of the game that the debate over Hearts' future would be suspended for the course of the afternoon and an energetic Aberdeen side unsettled Locke's team for much of an absorbing 90 minutes, playing with a strong sense of urgency.

A pre-match minute's applause for Ernie Winchester, a striker for both teams in the 1960s who died last week, gave way to a thrilling opening 45 minutes punctuated by a series of direct and entertaining manoeuvres, particularly from the hosts, who had two youngsters, Cammy Smith and Nicky Low in their line-up.

It was perhaps an indication of manager Derek McInnes's thinking as he ponders how he will fill places next season following the release of seven first-team regulars.

Smith linked up well with Jonny Hayes and between them they produced a number of opportunities for each other and for Josh Magennis.

Early on, the latter flipped the ball over MacDonald, only for centre-back Andy Webster to appear and rescue the visitors with his clearance.

Magennis then connected with a Clark Robertson cross but MacDonald produced an outstanding touch to tip his effort over. Smith, too, forced the keeper into acrobatics on two occasions.

A flurry of Aberdeen attacks was interrupted by a Jason Holt strike which, after taking a deflection, looked a potential opener for the Tynecastle side until Jamie Langfield showed MacDonald that he too is capable of remarkably agile stops.

MacDonald's respite was only brief as Smith produced what looked like an unstoppable shot after linking up with Low, but once again the Hearts No 1 effected an exceptional save.

Suddenly, though, with just over an hour played, the game turned as Hearts won a corner kick on the left and, as the Aberdeen defenders watched Kevin McHattie's ball into the area, Ryan Stevenson stole in ahead of them all to head into the net.

Aberdeen's desperation to restore parity was palpable, and they had luck on their side when, 13 minutes from time, they snatched an equaliser as Hamill slid the ball past MacDonald. It was not enough to give the home side a seventh-place finish.

"I thought we were excellent," McInnes said. "Our biggest failing was passing up so many chances but I couldn't have asked for any more from my players who were straight down Hearts' throat from the beginning."

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