Aberdeen 1 Heart Of Midlothian 1: Rix's rocket sparks Hearts after sleepy beginnings

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The Independent Football

Rudi Skacel's 11th goal of the season was enough to earn Hearts a point in Graham Rix's first match as the head coach but this result was more a case of two points dropped for the Edinburgh side. Had they applied themselves with anywhere near the urgency and diligence of the second half in the first 45 minutes they would probably have taken the win necessary to keep them level on points with Celtic at the summit of the Scottish Premier League.

But they did not, for reasons that Rix still has to fathom, and so trail Celtic by two points this morning.

"Maybe the slow start was because of the international break, maybe because the lads have got a new coach, maybe the media hype got to them," Rix said. "I've got to think about that, and absorb it."

Rix would not be drawn on his reception. It had been anticipated that he would be mercilessly barracked over his 1999 conviction for unlawful sex with a 15-year-old girl, but in fact he was cheered on arrival by Hearts fans and only mildly taunted by the home support. The fiercest verbal outburst of the afternoon came from Rix, not at him, in the Hearts dressing-room during the break.

"I wasn't very happy, I can assure you," he said. "In that first half we didn't pass the ball well, we didn't win any second balls, we were two yards off the pace with and without the ball and we looked lethargic.

"The first-half performance is difficult to explain and if we play like that at Motherwell next week we will be three or four down. To be fair to the lads, we spoke and they responded. In the end I saw a lot of good things." Rix added that he was "pleased" to have got his first match out of the way.

Aberdeen took the lead in the 13th minute through Jamie Smith, who had a splendid afternoon, running Hearts ragged in the first half. His goal, from a low angled shot after Richie Byrne's effort had rebounded out the edge of the box, was the least he deserved. Aberdeen nearly went two ahead when Barry Nicholson spun and fired low after 29 minutes but the shot went just wide. Nicholson also shot over from a second-half free-kick, while Gary Dempsey went close late on.

Hearts looked like a different team after their rollocking. Paul Hartley and Skacel, generally Hearts' two best players in any given game, came into their own, while Saulius Mikoliunas began creating on the right, and Calum Elliot, a half-time substitute up front, added muscle and graft to the attack.

Skacel shot wide - and kicked the post in frustration - before he scored with a powerful volley that took a looping deflection off Dempsey. Steven Pressley could have added a winner but blasted over. A curling Skacel free-kick also went close, and a long-range effort by Hartley was stopped.

Goals: Smith (13) 1-0; Skacel (64) 1-1.

Aberdeen: (3-5-2): Esson; Hart (Dempsey, h-t), Anderson, Diamond (Considine, 90); Smith, Clark, Nicholson, Muirhead, Byrne; Mackie (Foster, 86), Crawford. Substitutes not used: Langfield (gk), Winter, Stewart, Baas.

Heart of Midlothian: (4-1-3-2): Gordon; Neilson, Pressley, Webster, Fyssas; Brellier; Mikoliunas, Hartley, Skacel; Pospisil (Elliot, h-t), Jankauskas (Cesnauskis, 79). Substitutes not used: Banks (gk), Camazzola, McAllister, Wallace, Tall.

Referee: C Thomson (Scotland).

Booked: Aberdeen: Clark, Diamond, Crawford, Hart, Mackie. Hearts: Brellier.

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 14,901.