Hearts 2-0 Aberdeen: First Liam Boyce goal for a year helps Hearts to vital win

Liam Boyce's first goal for more than a year helped Hearts to a significant victory in the Scottish Premiership and extended Aberdeen's winless start to the campaign.

Yutaro Oda's deflected strike in the first half edged Steven Naismith's side in front, and Boyce capitalised on slack defending to ensure a first win since the opening day of the season for Hearts.

It was an important moment for the Northern Irishman, who missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, and his manager, who officially became the club's figurehead during the international break.

Hearts' second Premiership win moves them up to fifth while Aberdeen are second bottom and still without a league win, having only won two of their last 13 games since Barry Robson officially stepped up from interim head coach last season.

That backdrop meant both sides came into the game under pressure, and the difference came in both boxes. Hearts were able to defend theirs relatively comfortably, and they were more threatening when they had the ball.

"[The win] It's been a long time coming," Boyce told BBC Scotland. "I think we caused them a lot of problems today and I thought we were solid and deserved the victory.

"Making runs off the ball and making decisions much better with the ball. I think that was the main difference today in how we played."

There was a touch of fortune about Oda's opener as it deflected off James McGarry on its way in, but Aberdeen could not point to bad luck for the crucial second goal.

Richard Jensen was robbed in his own box, and then Jamie McGrath forced his own goalkeeper Kelle Roos into a reaction save, and Boyce was lurking to stroke in the rebound and grab his first goal since August 2022.

Kenneth Vargas had by that point rattled the post with a forceful strike from distance, and although Hearts did not create a huge number of chances, they did more than enough to clinch a vital victory.

Player of the match - Liam Boyce

Big win for Naismith, frantic Aberdeen - analysis

Hearts needed this win in front of their own fans. The Naismith-Frankie McAvoy managerial duo that started the season due to Uefa regulations had fans scratching their heads, and now Naismith is officially the figurehead after the Conference League exit, it is almost a chance to reset.

His inexperience as a manager means one good performance will not convince the Tynecastle faithful, but this was more promising. The back four looked strong and robust amid recent concerns about set-pieces, while Cammy Devlin was excellent in midfield.

There were glimpses of some of the neat play and tempo Naismith is trying to bring, though it was only evident in fits and starts. Boyce getting on the scoresheet could ignite his campaign, and he was effective up top.

As for Aberdeen, it's difficult to know where to start. Robson always mentions speed, but that message seems to have been taken literally because from back to front, they have been frantic this season.

It means a disjointed defence, a rushed midfield which consistently gives the ball away or resorts to long passes, which means Bojan Miovski and Duk are often left chasing the ball about up top.

Duk in particular looks frustrated, and extended his run without a goal to 14 games. But he is feeding from scraps right now.

Robson made the point pre-match that his defenders have only this week all met each other after a flurry of late signings, and that is a mitigating circumstance as he tries to integrate 13 new faces.

The problem is there is no clear sign of what Aberdeen are trying to do more generally. If that doesn't change quickly, there will be trouble ahead.

What they said

Hearts manager Steven Naismith: "The game changed on the first goal because we can have a bit more control and the players get more confident. But for us, the group are really good and receptive to what we want to do. It's just about belief.

"It could've been a really nervy occasion because of the results. So the players could have taken the easy option, but we were brave, which gave us opportunities."

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson: "We weren't at our best defensively and weren't at our best going forward. We lacked a bit of cohesion. I didn't think there was much in the game in the first half.

"Second half we changed to 4-3-3 and I thought we were the better team for the first 10 or 15 minutes without being brilliant. Then Hearts get another goal and it becomes really difficult after that."

What's next?

Hearts host St Mirren next Saturday (15:00 BST) while Aberdeen open their Europa Conference League group stage campaign away to Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday (17:45), followed by a home league game against Ross County on Sunday (15:00).