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Hearts 6-1 Ross County – The Verdict: Player ratings, talking points and star man as Malky Mackay suffers his heaviest defeat as Staggies boss

County remain rooted to the bottom of the Premiership following Tynecastle torment.

Hearts' Lawrence Shankland (C) celebrates scoring to make it 3-0 against Ross County. Image: SNS
Hearts' Lawrence Shankland (C) celebrates scoring to make it 3-0 against Ross County. Image: SNS

Ross County remain rooted to the bottom of the Scottish Premiership following a 6-1 defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle.

The Jambos ended a six-game losing run in style with an emphatic victory as County manager Malky Mackay endured the heaviest defeat of his Staggies reign.

It’s the second time County have been beaten by five goals following Motherwell’s 5-0 win in Dingwall on October 4 and the first time the Staggies have conceded six goals under Mackay.

With Dundee United and Kilmarnock both winning their respective matches the heavy loss in Edinburgh leaves County four points adrift at the foot of the table.

The visitors found themselves 4-0 down by half-time following a spell of pressure on the County goal from the home side.

Yutara Odo and Barrie McKay both had attempts off target for the Jambos before Alex Cochrane broke the deadlock as his fired low past Ross Laidlaw for his second goal of the season.

Josh Ginnelly raced clear before cutting past Dylan Smith to double the Jambos’ lead in the 22nd minute. The flag went up initially before the goal was given following a lengthy VAR check.

County’s hopes of getting back into the game were sunk six minutes later as captain Lawrence Shankland headed McKay’s cross into the net to make it 3-0.

Another VAR check led to Hearts making it 4-0 in first-half stoppage time with Smith penalised for a trip on Shankland who fired home the resulting spot kick.

Jordan White headed against the crossbar early in the second half but it was Hearts who added to the tally as Ginnelly grabbed his second of the game with a low drive to make it 5-0.

Shankland completed his hat-trick before the hour mark with a clever finish for his 25th goal of the campaign after Oda’s driving run and shot had been halted.

County grabbed a consolation five minutes from time from the penalty spot through substitute Owura Edwards. He scored the spot kick after being fouled by Cochrane.

Talking points

Defence torn to shreds by clinical Hearts

Hearts’ Alex Cochrane celebrates opening the scoring. Image: SNS

County arrived at Tynecastle boasting the best defensive away record in the bottom six.

But the switch to a back three for this one backfired spectacularly as they were picked apart by a ruthless Hearts attack.

The pace of Ginnelly down the right and the craft of McKay down the right overwhelmed the Staggies’ defence.

The first goal was always going to be crucial in a game between two sides low on confidence and with Hearts getting it they swarmed all over the visitors who wilted quickly under the pressure.

Three goals in 11 minutes ended this game as a contest with less than half an hour on the clock.

Had it not been for the crossbar denying Shankland’s spectacular lob and a terrific Laidlaw save it could quite easily have been four or five before the home captain grabbed his second of the game just before the interval.

Mackay reverted to a back four for the second half but by then the damage had already been done.

The additional goals from the home side simply added more salt to already gaping wounds.

Lack of cutting edge continues

Hearts’ Josh Ginnelly (R) and Ross County’s Jack Baldwin. Image: SNS

It could all have been so different too had County made more of their early attacking opportunities.

There were glimmers of hope for the visitors in the opening 10 minutes as Hearts struggled against the aerial threat of the Staggies.

But in what has been a familiar tale this season, County could not translate positive pressure on the opposition goal into a tangible reward.

Worryingly for Malky Mackay when he looked at his bench he had previous few options to affect that particular area.

For all Hearts’ defensive frailties their goal threat was obvious with every attack.

The same cannot be said for the visitors who laboured for long spells without testing Jambos goalkeeper Zander Clark.

County need to find a cutting edge from somewhere for their post-split fixtures. Their hopes of staying in the Premiership may well depend on it.

Post-split fixtures will determine County’s fate

Owura Edwards netted a consolation for Ross County. Image: SNS

It was clear Ross County’s Premiership survival would be determined in the post-split fixtures but it will be a long two weeks for the Staggies manager and his players as they pick over the bones of this defeat.

Games against Dundee United, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone will go a long way to shaping whether County are relegated, in the play-offs or safe.

But in the cold light of day this will surely feel like an opportunity missed for the Staggies with their misery compounded by results elsewhere in the league cutting them further adrift.

Hearts were fragile following six straight defeats – that much was clear in the opening minutes.

But within minutes of Cochrane putting Steven Naismith’s side ahead all thoughts of the Staggies players quickly changed from picking up valuable points to a damage limitation exercise.

As chastening afternoons go this one was up there with the very worst of Mackay’s tenure.

Talking tactics

Ross County boss Mackay made two changes to the side beaten 1-0 at home by Aberdeen on April 14.

Captain Alex Iacovitti returned to the starting line-up as he took the place of Jack Baldwin in central defence.

David Cancola was also handed a starting role in place of Keith Watson who joined Baldwin on dropping to the bench.

Jordan Tillson, Jordy Hiwula and Alex Samuel also returned to the matchday squad after being named among the substitutes.

Referee watch

VAR shaped this one more than the official with the offside decision for the pivotal second goal before Don Robertson was asked to have another look at the challenge on Shankland just before the break.

He did not need to look at the monitor too long before pointing to the spot.

Player ratings

HEARTS (4-2-3-1) Clark 5, Atkinson 5, Sibbick 6, Rowles 6, Cochrane 6, Devlin (Humphrys 6) 6, Haring (Halliday 75) 7, Ginnelly (Kiomourtzoglou 67) 7, Oda 6, McKay 7, Shankland (Grant 75) 8. Subs not used – Stewart, Kingsley, Forrest, Kuol, Hill.

ROSS COUNTY (3-5-2) – Laidlaw 6, Randall 4, Smith (Edwards 72) 4, Iacovitti 5, Sims (Watson 67) 3, Loturi (Stones 46) 4, Cancola (Baldwin 46) 3, Kenneh (Tillson 67) 5, Harmon 4, White 5, Murray 4. Subs not used – Munro, Dhanda, Hiwula, Samuel.

Star man

Lawrence Shankland scored a hat-trick for Hearts. Image: SNS

Lawrence Shankland. The Hearts captain shows he remains a prolific finisher as his well-taken treble helped put County to the sword.

But his link-up play was equally good in an impressive display. His influence on the game increased as Hearts went up through the gears.