A LATE striker from Hearts substitute Jamie Walker sank Dundee in a hard-fought battle at the Kilmac Stadium.

With Celtic playing in the League Cup final, Robbie Neilson’s men closed the gap on second place in the cinch Premiership. The defeat leaves Dundee second bottom and on a run of four consecutive defeats.

The match was dogged by persistent fouling and stoppages in play and when footbal did break out clear-cut chances were few and far between.

Liam Boyce dropped out with injury so Ben Woodburn came back in to the side to lead the line, along with Andy Halliday, who took his place at left wingback as Hearts returned to their 3-4-3 formation. 

Dundee had a threadbare squad going into this one, not helped after Jason Cummings was sent home from training on Friday after breaking Covid protocols. Leigh Griffiths came into the starting XI, as did Christie Elliot in a makeshift back four. Barring the returning Alex Jakubiak, the sparsely populated Dundee subs bench barely had an appearance between them.

On Cummings, Dundee manager James McPake said after the match: “We’ll deal with it on Monday. 

“We were left short today. Would I change my decision: absolutely not. He was unfit to train on Friday. He never asked e to go to the event. Would I have allowed him: I don’t know because I never got the chance to answer that.”

The opening 45 was largely uneventful, with Hearts dominating the ball and Dundee sitting in and looking to counter. The home side carried little threat, though the pace of Paul McMullan and Luke McCowan caused the Hearts backline issues. It was the latter who ended the half with the best effort on goal after cutting on to his right foot, though it was a comfortable save for Craig Gordon in the end.

Before that Robbie Neilson’s men had put together some nice passages of play but always lacked the final ball. The closest they came to bothering Adam Legzdins’s goal came when Peter Haring nodded tamely past the post from a Barrie McKay header, while Woodburn lobbed over the keeper and the bar after some neat play.

By that point Stephen Kingsley had been replaced in the back three by lex Cochrane after being on the end of a heavy challenge for Dundee midfielder Max Anderson.

The fog that had cleared to make way for sunshine at the start of the game began to descend again at half-time. It was the red mist which began to take over the home side, however, with three bookings in quick succession following the restart, as Hearts continued to dominate possession.

The second half followed a similar pattern until a rare introduction for Walker, to the delight of the Hearts support who had sung his name during his warm-ups. His first effort was a poor one but he was then perhaps unlucky not to have a chance to go one-on-one with the keeper when the linesman flagged him offside. 

Unperturbed, he was there to tap in the winner with around 15 minutes remaining. A spell of pressure saw McKay lay it off for Aaron McEneff, also on as a sub, whose shot was deflected onto the post. Legzdins tried to react as the ball trundled past his back but Walker was alert and there to apply the finish.

A delighted Neilson hailed the impact of the 28-year-old attacker: “He’s found it hard to get in because people in his position have been playing really well. He just had to bide his time. He’s got that quality in the final moment.

“He’s a Hearts man through and through. You know when you put Jamie on he’s going to give everything.”

McPake, meanwhile, was happy with the effort of his players though unhappy with a decision leading up to the Hearts goal when McCowan was adjudged to have touched the ball when Hearts were awarded a throw. “It was a sore one, they gave what I asked, they gave me everything,” he said.

“Let’s just say the officials on the day were… the officials.”