Robbie Neilson felt the first-half introduction of midfielder Peter Haring was key to Hearts seizing the upper hand in their hard-fought 1-0 win over Livingston.
The Jambos struggled for long periods of the first half and were fortunate to remain level in the 24th minute as the hosts passed up an incredible “quadruple chance” – as Livi boss David Martindale described it afterwards – when Craig Gordon made three consecutive saves and Craig Sibbald hit the woodwork.
Neilson, concerned by what he was seeing, responded just a few minutes later by making the bold decision to replace on-loan Liverpool attacker Ben Woodburn with midfield enforcer Haring.
The change helped steady the ship before Hearts took the lead through Liam Boyce and enjoyed far greater control in the second half.
When it was put to him that it was a game of two halves, Neilson said: “A game of four quarters! I thought we started well in the first five, 10 minutes. We had a couple of half-chances, but then the game became very scrappy.
“We had no control in the middle and they were picking up all the second balls. It was only when we brought Peter on that we got a bit of stability and that allowed us to grow into the game.”
Asked about his first-half substitution, Neilson said: “You need to do it at times. You can’t wait until half-time – sometimes you just need to do it. Thankfully it paid off.”
Neilson praised goalkeeper Gordon for once again making some key saves.
He said: “I thought both goalkeepers today had some really good saves. Craig pulled off some top-class saves, but that’s par for him. He’s just a top keeper.”
Neilson felt his team could have scored more in the end as they spurned further second-half opportunities.
“We had a couple of chances to put it to bed and didn’t manage to do it, and at 1-0 it was a wee bit edgy towards the end of the game, but we defended well,” he said.
Neilson was booked in the aftermath of a decision to award Livingston a first-half free-kick.
He said: “I have no idea what it was for. They don’t speak to you any more. They just come up to card you!
“I asked what it was for and he said dissent or something. But I never actually shouted at anyone! It’s just the way it’s going now.”
Livingston manager Martindale was also irked by the officials as he felt his team were denied the chance of a late equaliser by an errant offside call just as Bruce Anderson looked to have got himself through on goal.
He said: “When your striker is going through on goal in the 90th minute and they get it wrong you cannot defend that.
“I genuinely feel hard done by and I’m not one to normally have a go at officials. I have told him he is on by two yards and the linesman tells me that it is not his fault we got beat.
“I can see his point but that decision did play a part in the defeat. If he had said he would look back at it and say ‘sorry’ if he got it wrong, that would be fine. But don’t be arrogant to me.
“It is poor because you are not allowed to speak to officials. I don’t like doing this but we have been done by another decision against us.”
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