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Ross County 1 Hearts 2: Hearts' positive approach eliminates negative points tally at last

RAIN thrashing down on Dingwall in relentless sheets did its level best to ensure otherwise, but Hearts, at long last, have their heads above water.

Callum Paterson scores the first goal for Hearts Photograph:SNS
Callum Paterson scores the first goal for Hearts Photograph:SNS

A positive points total is finally in place for the Tynecastle team, after half a season spent fighting the 15-point penalty for going into administration. Appropriately, then, the positive outcome was secured by a thoroughly positive attacking performance.

Hearts have rediscovered the knack of winning football matches just in time for their League Cup semi-final against Inverness next weekend.

Scott Robinson's clincher 10 minutes from time ended a barren run of 11 games without victory dating back to November 9, with only two points earned in that time.

The 500-plus Hearts fans in attendance will surely retain a realistic streak, but joyously sang "we're staying up" in defiance of the 19-point deficit between them and County and Partick Thistle,

To have just two points on the board by late January remains galling, but everything is relative to manager Gary Locke.

"We're finally in positive points territory and that will give everyone a big psychological boost," Locke said.

"When we look at the league table we won't see that minus sign any more. It has been a long, hard slog to get where we are, but the whole place will get a lift."

That Easter Road date in the League Cup must have been looming in the back of the players' minds.

Missing the suspended Ryan Stevenson, those cup thoughts certainly seemed to act as spur as the visitors tore out of the traps with obvious hunger.

Ross County, having overpowered Dundee United the previous week, again fielded all six January signings.

But Derek Adams' side took time to warm to the task, with Scotland under-21 attacker David Smith a thorn in their side repeatedly.

Within the first few minutes, Smith had set up chances squandered by both Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson. County's Graham Carey then swerved in a wonderful cross that just bounced too high for Richard Brittain's outstretched boot.

But Smith tore at the hosts like a man possessed, setting up Dale Carrick for a free header over the bar and cracking the post himself after 13 minutes. The pattern continued, with County's forays limited in comparison.

When Carrick flashed another shot just high and wide after 32 minutes you sensed it might not be Hearts' day. Five minutes later, though, the pay-off arrived.

Fittingly, the corner was swung in by Smith and when Brittain was forced to flick a header on, Callum Paterson was left with a tap-in.

County dug out a leveller almost on half-time. Captain Brittain's free-kick swirled up for centre-half Yann Songo'o to head home forcefully. The Blackburn Rovers loanee has declared a place in Cameroon's World Cup squad as his aim and celebrated by pointing to the heavens.

For a time, there was a world of difference to County's play after the break - much more urgency, fluency and hunger. But Hearts dug deep after a ferocious Songo'o shot was pushed away by keeper Jamie MacDonald.

The rain was heavy, lending the match itself a fluidity as mistakes set in and Hearts fought on. Even when Nicholson missed in front of goal after 72 minutes, the heads stayed up and with 10 minutes left Hearts' pressure told.

Home keeper Michael Fraser punched a clearance straight into Robinson's path and his strike from 15 yards was unstoppable.

Inevitably it grew frantic as County tried to salvage a point, but Hearts stood strong.

For Adams, beaten for the first time in 2014, the contrast between County yesterday and the week before was puzzling.

"I've absolutely no complaints. Hearts started the game really well and caused us all manner of problems," he said.

"I'm not sure where that performance came from because we've beaten three of the top six in our last four games before today. It was a bad day at the office, so we dust ourselves down and get going again."

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