Arbroath 0-1 Hearts: Craig Wighton's fourth goal of the season sees off his old team
Craig Wighton returned to Arbroath to strike his fourth goal of the campaign and secure Hearts a hard-earned victory in front of the BBC Scotland cameras.
The forward scored three times in five loan appearances for the Angus club last season, and his lofted 70th-minute effort settled this Championship fixture for his parent club.
Part-time Arbroath frustrated Hearts for long spells by squeezing play high up the pitch. They also created good scoring chances, notably during an impressive first half.
Hearts opened their league season with a 6-2 thumping of Dundee last week but this time they found space restricted and creative players stifled. An early injury to winger Josh Ginnelly did not help. He was replaced by the eventual match-winner.
The experienced Arbroath manager Dick Campbell stated pre-match that he didn’t fear Hearts despite last week’s opening 6-2 win against Dundee.
Campbell’s team belied their part-time status by pushing for the Championship play-offs last season. The manager made it clear this year is about survival. “Anybody who mentions play-offs to me won’t be playing next week,” he quipped.
Centre-back Thomas O’Brien was suspended after last week’s red card in Arbroath’s 3-0 loss at Raith Rovers. Hearts also lost one of their most influential figures in the opening moments of this match when Ginnelly pulled a thigh muscle.
The visitors caused their own problems on 20 minutes as Andy Halliday’s slack backpass landed with Arbroath forward Kris Doolan. He took a touch inside the penalty area and dispatched a right-footed shot which Craig Gordon repelled with his legs.
The goalkeeper’s right-hand thwarted the same opponent ten minutes later with the home team visibly growing in confidence. They had fashioned the best scoring chances without managing to convert. Hearts needed to raise the tempo.
They changed to a 4-4-2 formation and tried to supply wingers Jamie Walker and Elliott Frear more frequently. Wighton fastened on to Olly Lee's through ball 15 minutes into the second period but his shot hit the emerging Arbroath goalkeeper Derek Gaston.
Campbell’s side showed continuing resistance as Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager, tried to figure out a way to win this potentially-hazardous fixture. Striker Liam Boyce released Walker for a run and shot which Gaston again stopped.
Halliday’s pinpoint long diagonal ball then found Boyce on the right, however his wayward shot flew high over the crossbar. Another loping pass down the opposite flank proved incisive moments later.
Hearts full-back Michael Smith launched a ball forward for Wighton which the Arbroath centre-back Colin Hamilton misjudged. Wighton found himself through on Gaston and calmly lobbed the advancing keeper for a cool execution.
With 20 minutes remaining, it was a timely and crucial intervention. It was also Wighton’s first league goal for Hearts more than two years since he was bought from Dundee.
Boyce might have doubled the advantage with a low shot which rolled wide, and only a deflection denied Michael Ruth a late equaliser for Arbroath.
Having enduring a testing evening at a difficult venue, Hearts were content to leave with maximum points.
Arbroath (4-2-3-1): Gaston; Thomson, Little, Hamilton, Craigen; Virtanen, Swankie (Gold 77); Ruth, McKenna, Hilson (Linn 75); Doolan (Donnelly 77).
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; M Smith, Halkett, Popescu, Kingsley; Lee, Halliday; Ginnelly (Wighton 8), Walker (Haring 78), Frear (White 61); Boyce.