HEARTS’ inevitable procession to the Championship title should be an emphatic march to glory, given their undeniable squad depth, top-flight pedigree and attacking quality.
Instead, it is becoming a rather unsatisfying slog, certainly in the eyes of disgruntled Jambos who — unable to take their place in the stadium — vented their spleens online after a second successive draw.
Recent weeks have seen underwhelming 1-0 victories over Dunfermline and Ayr, followed by a dismal 1-1 draw against Queen of the South. Patience has been tested. This was little better.
Granted, rather than insipid football, this frustrating afternoon for the Gorgie men owed more to profligacy. Hearts had more than enough chances to win the game but were unforgivably wasteful.
It ultimately required Jamie Walker’s 50th goal for the club to bail them out after Craig McGuffie gave gutsy Morton the lead.
The draw allowed Dunfermline to cut the gap at the summit to 11 points, which remains an unassailable lead, considering the inconsistency of the chasing pack. Nevertheless, the approaching denouement of this campaign shows on sign of setting pulses racing.
“We only have ourselves to blame,” said boss Neilson, who watched the encounter unfold from the Wheatfield Stand as he served the first a two-match touchline ban. Football is about putting the ball in the net and we didn’t do it.
“There needs to be a demand to put the ball in the net and it was a bit like they were thinking: ‘ach, it will come’. It didn’t and then we fell behind. So we need to be better — and we know that.”
Defender Mihai Popescu was the worst culprit, somehow firing over the bar from six yards after being teed up by Gary Mackay-Steven. Aaron McEneff, Michael Smith, Stephen Kingsley and Andy Halliday all fluffed their lines when presented with passable opportunities to break the deadlock before a neat back-heel from Liam Boyce looped onto the top of the cross-bar.
It was ‘one of those days’ territory.
Morton did threaten Craig Gordon’s goal prior to the interval, albeit largely by accident. An Aidan Nesbitt delivery was caught by the whipping gale in Gorgie, curled wickedly and struck the bar.
However, Hearts did not heed that shot across the bows and, ten minutes into the second half, Morton landed a shuddering sucker-punch when McGuffie fired home a clinical low drive from 18 yards.
Hearts, in need of inspiration, found it among their embarrassment of riches on the bench. Armand Gnanduillet surged down the left flank and produced a pin-point cross for fellow second-half substitute Walker, whose powerful header left Aidan McAdams clawing at thin air.
“We are delighted for Jamie to to reach 50 goal,” Neilson said. “There aren’t many people in Hearts’ history who have achieved that.”
Proud Morton manager Anton McElhone, whose side are three points off fourth-placed Queen of the South, added: “No-one gives a monkeys about us but we’re fighting. We’ve got our objective to keep climbing and go for fourth.”