Hearts dealt a blow to Dundee United’s European ambitions as Ellis Simms’ late goal decided an enthralling Scottish Premiership contest at Tannadice.
Dylan Levitt’s stylish effort gave fourth-placed United an early lead as they attempt to clinch a Europa Conference League place.
Scottish Cup finalists Hearts turned the game with goals from Liam Boyce and Josh Ginnelly either side of the break. And although Ryan Edwards levelled, substitute Simms lashed in the winner with seven minutes to go.
Hearts, who have already secured a Europa League play-off place, extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to nine.
And United remain a point above Motherwell and Ross County, who also lost this weekend, with the trip battling to claim two places in the qualifying rounds of the Conference League.
- Reaction & as it happened
Tam Courts’ side started in the manner of a team with a prize at stake, Nicky Clark heading wide at an early corner, and the forward was involved again as United took the lead.
Clark played a one-two with Tony Watt and, although Craig Gordon saved his shot, possession was recycled for Levitt, who showed a delicate touch to evade two defenders and jab the ball into the left corner.
Hearts – who had scored nine times in three meetings with United prior to this one – responded was a shot over the bar by Aaron McEneff before the midfielder made way injured for Ben Woodburn.
Boyce was next to threaten for the visitors after latching on to Barrie McKay’s superb pass, Benjamin Siegrist making a fine save to deny him.
Two Ginnelly efforts in quick succession had to be dealt with by United defenders and a Boyce header was blocked by Ross Graham as the visitors kept the pressure on.
And their reward came when Nathaniel Atkinson’s driven cross was pushed out by Siegrist but only on to the chest of Boyce, who bundled it into the net.
Hearts continued where they left off after the break and Ginnelly smacked a shot off the outside of the right post before testing Siegrist with a low drive.
And the winger got his goal after chasing Alex Cochrane’s long ball and nipping past the onrushing goalkeeper to shoot into the empty net.
United were not done, though. Substitute Kieran Freeman drew a save from Gordon and the leveller soon came from the same right-hand side of the pitch, Edwards thundering a shot into the opposite corner from 25 yards after some deft footwork.
However, there would be no precious win for the hosts, with Simms timing his diagonal run perfectly to receive McKay’s pass and finish first time past Siegrist and claim a third win in four meetings of these sides this term.
Man of the match – Josh Ginnelly
What did we learn?
United’s saving grace this weekend has been their nearest rivals also losing, but both Motherwell and County have now played one of their post-split games against the Old Firm.
Going forward, they looked more than capable against Hearts but were caught out by direct balls at crucial times.
Hearts arrived at Tannadice with injury problems and McEneff’s early withdrawal added to the absence of Craig Halkett, John Souttar, Stephen Kingsley and Andy Halliday.
But the strength of the squad showed, with Ginnelly in particular staking his claim for a cup final place and on-loan Everton forward Simms again impressing.
What did they say?
Heart of Midlothian manager Robbie Neilson: “We didn’t start well. To Dundee United’s credit, they put us under a lot of pressure. After the first 15 minutes, we started to create chances.
“Delighted for Josh, he’s been out the team for a while. He’s been working hard. Ellis is on fine form and we just have to enjoy him as much as we can right now. If we can keep Ellis next season, great – but it’s totally outwith our control.”
United are at home again on Saturday against Motherwell, while Hearts host County (both 15:00 BST).
How to play
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- Dundee UtdDundee United
- HeartsHeart of Midlothian
Heart of Midlothian
- Match Stats
- Live Text
- 29GrahamBooked at 89mins
- 7NiskanenSubstituted forFreemanat 58′minutes
- 26MochrieBooked at 68minsSubstituted forMeekisonat 71′minutes
- 33McMannSubstituted forSpörleat 87′minutes
- 10ClarkSubstituted forMcNultyat 71′minutes
- 58Anim Cudjoe
- 15MooreBooked at 45mins
- 8McEneffSubstituted forWoodburnat 15′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 5HaringBooked at 90mins
- 30GinnellySubstituted forSimmsat 72′minutes
- 10BoyceBooked at 3mins
- Colin Steven
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Dundee United 2, Heart of Midlothian 3.
Second Half ends, Dundee United 2, Heart of Midlothian 3.
Ben Woodburn (Heart of Midlothian) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Ben Woodburn (Heart of Midlothian).
Adrián Spörle (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Hand ball by Tony Watt (Dundee United).
Peter Haring (Heart of Midlothian) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Peter Haring (Heart of Midlothian).
Tony Watt (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Dylan Levitt.
Ross Graham (Dundee United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Nathaniel Atkinson (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Ross Graham (Dundee United).
Craig Gordon (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Ross Graham (Dundee United).
Attempt blocked. Tony Watt (Dundee United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Corner, Dundee United. Conceded by Toby Sibbick.
Attempt blocked. Tony Watt (Dundee United) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ryan Edwards.
Substitution, Dundee United. Adrián Spörle replaces Scott McMann.
Ben Woodburn (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick on the right wing.