Hearts 1-0 Inverness CT: Josh Ginnelly the pick of new Hearts signings as Jamie Walker strikes Betfred Cup winner
Disputed penalty proves decisive as Inverness waste chances
Six new signings took their Hearts bows as Inverness Caledonian Thistle were beaten in the opening Betfred Cup group tie.
Both teams were playing their first competitive match in seven months, which was settled in the second half by Jamie Walker’s disputed penalty.
Referee Steven McLean penalised the teenage Inverness left-back Cameron Harper for handling Josh Ginnelly’s shot and Walker dispatched the spot-kick.
Ginnelly, on loan from Preston North End, looked the pick of Hearts’ new arrivals. Left-back Stephen Kingsley signed earlier in the day and enjoyed the last 15 minutes as a substitute.
Exactly 18 years to the day since his first Hearts debut, goalkeeper Craig Gordon returned to play at Tynecastle Park. It was clear within minutes that his instinctive reactions remain intact at the age of 37 with a stunning save from teenager Daniel McKay’s powerful header.
In front of Gordon was the recently-signed Romanian centre-back Mihai Popescu. He is still finding match fitness but won’t be short of action with John Souttar and Christophe Berra injured.
Ginnelly was the third home debutant and started on the right flank. He was Hearts’ biggest threat – direct, quick and dangerous from the off as colleagues constantly fed him the ball to run at the 18-year-old Harper.
The visiting manager John Robertson, of course, needs no introduction at Tynecastle. He brought four other ex-Hearts employees from the Highlands in goalkeeper Mark Ridgers, defender Brad McKay, plus substitute strikers James Keatings and Nikolai Todorov.
He also granted debuts to new defenders Wallace Duffy and Robbie Deas, plus midfielder Scott Allardice in a team containing five players under 21 – three of them teenagers.
Both goalkeepers made early saves, Gordon’s the most impressive to stop MacKay. Hearts striker Craig Wighton was out to showcase his credentials at centre-forward with Liam Boyce away on international duty. He struck the crossbar on 32 minutes following one of Ginnelly’s umpteen crosses.
Ginnelly remained a continual danger and another of his deliveries fell for Andy Irving on 35 minutes, only for Wallace to block the midfielder’s shot.
Hearts were the better side but Inverness should have gone ahead just before the break. The unmarked Deas volleyed wide near the back post from a corner when he ought to have scored.
Ridgers displayed his own reactions early in the second period to deny Jamie Brandon as the hosts tried to covert sustained pressure into a breakthrough. They succeeded on the hour mark.
Walker stepped up to confidently stroke home from 12 yards after a controversial penalty award. Harper protested that the ball did not strike his arm in an unnatural position, but to no avail.
Jordan Roberts and Andy Halliday then entered the fray for the first time in Hearts colours. A former Inverness loanee, Roberts has much to offer in both a physical and technical sense. Kingsley soon joined them.
Had there been fans inside the stadium, the Tynecastle roar would have reached deafening levels when Peter Haring emerged from the bench on 82 minutes. The Austrian’s 16-month injury absence is finally over.
Home fans would also have groaned in dismay at two late chances for the Inverness substitute Todorov. Both finished off target but the Bulgarian should have at least taken this tie to penalties.