Hearts earn point at Aberdeen

Aberdeen 1 Hearts 1

Aberdeen 1 Hearts 1

A superb strike from Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart earned his side a point in a tight Clydesdale Bank Premier League clash with Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Both sides scored their goals out of the blue with Barry Nicholson putting the Dons ahead with their first decent attack in the 19th minute.

Stewart curled home from 20 yards in first-half injury time and neither side did enough in the second period to take three points.

The evenly-matched teams both had intermittent spells of decent attacking play without cutting each other open.

Aberdeen pipped Hearts to a UEFA Cup spot last season and the game had added significance after both lost their opening games to Dundee United and Hibernian respectively.

Both managers made a number of changes with Andrius Velicka among five players coming in for the Jambos.

The striker had appeared to be on his way out of the club but returned to the starting line-up in place of Ricardas Beniusis, who was not even on the bench following his disappointing debut.

Ruben Palazuelos made his debut in midfield alongside Icelandic teenager Eggert Jonsson, who was making his first start.

Kestutis Ivaskevicius also came back in and Christophe Berra returned from suspension for his first match as skipper following Craig Gordon’s exit to Sunderland.

Aberdeen brought in Zander Diamond, Lee Mair and Steve Lovell but the visitors looked sharper in the opening stages with Jonsson and Palazuelos keeping possession well.

However, they struggled to carve out any clear-cut chances with Velicka lacking support and it was Jonsson’s inexperience that led to Nicholson’s opener in the 19th minute.

The youngster tried to retain the ball to avoid conceding a corner after blocking Jamie Smith’s run to the touchline. But the Dons wide man won it back and fed Nicholson, who slotted home after his first effort was blocked.

The unexpected goal lifted the Dons and Nicholson and Smith both came close from long-range strikes after running at the home defence.

And they may have won a penalty had referee Ian Brines seen Marius Zaliukas aim a kick at Chris Clark after he dispossessed him in the box.

Hearts looked devoid of ideas but Stewart stunned the home side when he found the top corner after Ivaskevicius had cut in from the right and squared to the unmarked midfielder.

Both sides made changes at half-time with Richard Foster replacing Mair and Audrius Ksanavicius on for Hearts winger Andrew Driver.

The half started quietly but Hearts began to liven up in the final third with their formation looking more like 4-3-3 than the 4-5-1 of the opening period. Ivaskevicius should have released Velicka after a strong run to the edge of the box but he opted to go alone and lost possession.

Velicka was set up moments later when Ksanavicius crossed to the back post but the Lithuania striker volleyed over from a tight angle.

Clark saw his shot deflected wide at the other end after bursting in from the left as the the game briefly threatened to open up.

The home fans voiced their displeasure at the departure of striker Lovell, who was replaced by wide man Chris Maguire in the 61st minute as Jimmy Calderwood matched the visitors’ shape.

Hearts sat deeper to deny their hosts room, although Maguire shot just over from the right channel after a quick free-kick.

And Steve Banks pulled off an excellent diving save to push away Smith’s curling effort from 25 yards.

Hearts responded when Velicka had a shot deflected wide after cutting in from the right before Stewart hit a powerful 25-yard effort straight at Derek Soutar.

At the other end, Aberdeen sub Craig Brewster then turned in the box but fired straight at Banks.

But in the end, neither side could find the clinical edge to claim their first win of the season.

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