HEARTS’ hopes of a revitalising jaunt in the Highlands fell flat along with new Kosovan capture Donis Avdijaj as a sturdy and driven Ross County held the upper hand in Dingwall.

It was another match without a morale-boosting win for both sides, but Hearts remained in far more perilous territory five points adrift at the foot of the table.

County, while the better side on the night, might rue a missed opportunity to put greater distance between themselves and the play-off zone.

What flashes of creativity there were, came from the Staggies. Hearts remain an object of puzzlement, strangely flat and uninspired under Daniel Stendel’s new regime.

The Tynecastle manager, honest on his team’s shortcomings, stressed the importance of small steps forward. “I said to the players, we need to take the positives – and we are unbeaten in 2020, three games in a row,” Stendel said.

“But in our situation, we all know we need wins to change where we are in the table. It’s a long way to go – we are not going to change it in one or two games.

“It would have been better if we won, but we need to take the point and go on to Rangers.”

Stendel admits there was a lack of cutting edge in the display, despite finishing the game with a wealth of attacking options on the park.

He stressed: “I expected a better performance, especially in the first half from our team. After the victory over Airdrie on Saturday, I thought we would play with so much more confidence. We had problems in our play in the last third and we didn’t really create chances in the first half.

HeraldScotland:

“In the second half, it was better and we had some good chances, but we need to score the first goal.

“Then it is easier for us, but Ross County also had a big chance in the second half.”

The Dingwall team sealed the capture striker Oli Shaw from Hibs hours before kick-off, with the 21-year-old going straight onto the Staggies bench.

Hearts exerted initial pressure, but County soon built momentum, with Iain Vigurs and Josh Mullin combining to allow Mckay a snapshot from 20 yards that Joel Pereira dealt with comfortably.

A lull ensued, with County’s early effervescence fading a little – and it took a ragged second half to get the pulses racing again.

A Naismith one-two with Washington saw the latter stub a woeful attempt over the bar but at least it was a shot off-target towards the Jambos’ travelling support.

Moments later, there was better as Naismith’s cutback set up new boy Avdijaj square on goal only for the Kosovan to slip at the vital moment and fail to recover in time.

Hearts made a double substitution just after the hour with Uche Ikpeazu replacing Avdijaj, who had shown only a brief couple of flashes of ability, while Dikamona made way for Euan Henderson. Nothing, though, could ignite them.

Coll Donaldson’s clever flick to the right of the box ended with Lee Erwin’s drive being saved superbly by Pereira, but a scoreless finish was just about right.

County co-manager Steve Ferguson was satisfied by a convincing response from his side’s defeat to Ayr in the Scottish Cup last weekend. “It was much improved from Saturday,” he said. “We asked the players for a reaction, and to get back to the principles we believe in.”