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Hearts sign off year with victory over Ross County

A strong first half performance earned Hearts three points at Tynecastle.

Hearts sign off year with victory over Ross County SNS Group
Michael Smith and Ben Woodburn found the net for Hearts.

Hearts wrapped up the calendar year with a 2-1 victory over Ross County thanks to goals from Michael Smith and Ben Woodburn.

The pair scored in a completely dominant first half for the hosts that also saw John Souttar twice hit the frame of the goal.

But an improved display from the visitors aligned to Hearts becoming careless saw County grab one back through Jordan White in the 72nd minute.

The victory keeps third-placed Hearts five points clear of Motherwell in the cinch Premiership, while the Staggies remain 10th – two points clear of the relegation zone.

It was the ideal start for the hosts as they stormed ahead inside four minutes.

Woodburn nutmegged Harry Clarke before picking out Barrie McKay. The forward’s first-time drive was blocked by Ross Laidlaw’s feet but Smith calmly stroked the rebound past the goalkeeper from close range.

That set the tone for a dominant first-half performance that saw the hosts create a handful of chances.

Woodburn shot wide before Aaron McEneff had a half-volley blocked by Laidlaw from a neat McKay delivery.

Hearts were getting themselves into great positions but their execution was letting them down.

McKay hit a deflected drive off target before McEneff pulled a right-footed effort wide from raking Peter Haring diagonal pass.

Their prolificacy continued when Smith toe-poked a good chance against the advertising boards from inside the box before a reactionary Souttar effort from a corner came back off the bar.

But Hearts finally doubled their lead in the 42nd minute through Woodburn.

The on-loan Liverpool forward ran at a retreating Clarke and his effort from 20 yards sent Laidlaw the wrong way after taking a big deflection off the defender.

Just before the break Souttar had another effort hit the frame of the goal after getting his head on a McKay free-kick.

County manager Malky Mackay brought on Jack Burroughs for David Cancola at the break before Hearts were forced into a change when Craig Halkett hobbled off, with Stephen Kingsley coming on.

Jamie Walker also climbed off the bench for Hearts and the attacking midfielder got involved with a shot that was saved by Laidlaw.

County were improved after the break and got themselves back into the game in the 72nd when White halved their deficit.

Joe Hungbo’s low cross was struck first time into the net via the post by the towering striker.

County piled on the pressure in the closing stages and Clarke had a stinging drive from inside the box pushed behind by Gordon, but Hearts held on to claim all the spoils.