Aberdeen 3-2 Hearts: Super sub Hedges scores dramatic late winner
Aberdeen have now won their last four home games against Hearts (Getty Images: Scott Baxter)

A late goal from substitute Ryan Hedges ensured Aberdeen started off their Scottish Premiership with a win in a fiery contest against Heart of Midlothian at Pittodrie.

The Welsh winger came off the bench to score his first goal for the club on his league debut, with five minutes left on the clock.

Hearts had fought back from a Sam Cosgrove goal in the first half to lead 2-1 going into the final 10 minutes, thanks to goals from Jamie Walker and substitute Steven Naismith, who completed his permanent move to Tynecastle last week.

But after youngster Aaron Hickey was sent off for a second bookable offence, the Dons were able to level the score line through a Cosgrove penalty, before Hedges completed the turnaround in emphatic fashion.

Story of the match

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes made two changes from Thursday's 5-0 hammering of Chikhura Sachkhere in their Europa League qualifier, with Scott Wright and James Wilson coming in for Niall McGinn and Ryan Hedges.

Hearts boss Craig Levein opted to start with a 3-5-2 formation, with skipper Christophe Berra partnered with John Souttar and new signing Craig Halkett in defence. Steven Naismith was only deemed fit enough for the bench following his lengthy injury lay off, but midfielder Jamie Walker made his second league debut for the club after returning to Edinburgh after a spell in England with Wigan Athletic and Peterborough United.

But it was the home side who picked up from where they left off on Thursday night and James Wilson missed a guilt edged opportunity early on from inside the area after good work from a short corner by Wright and Irishman Jon Gallagher.

However the Dons did make the breakthrough shortly after. On 13 minutes, Berra failed to deal with a clearance from Andy Considine, helping the ball on to Aberdeen striker Cosgrove who raced into the area before calmly slotting past Jambos stopper Zdenek Zlamal

Midfielder Gallagher then came close to doubling the home side's lead, with a rasping left foot drive from the edge of the box that Zlamal did well to parry.

Hearts went very close to getting an equaliser, when Joe Lewis expertly tipped over a powerful header from Berra who met a set play from the right hand side.

The remainder of the half then saw a number of full blooded challenges, with full back Hickey, midfielder Sean Clare and striker Uche Ikpeazu all going into the book for the visitors.

Matters where also made worse for manager Craig Levein, when John Souttar limped off five minutes before the interval to be replaced by Congo international Clevid Dikamona.

A spirited response

Aberdeen failed to assert their dominance in the early stages of the second half, and the Jambos began to slowly grow into the game.

The visitors began to have a lot more of the ball in the middle of the park, whilst also exploiting target man Ikpeazu's height and power with long diagonal balls.

But it was the substitutions made by Levein that ultimately got his side back in the game. Talisman Steven Naismith came on for Jake Mulraney on 66 minutes, and immediately made an impact two minutes later, heading home with his his first touch after Craig Halkett's long throw into the box had been flicked on at the near post.

The Pittodrie crowd were further shocked when the Edinburgh side took the lead eight minutes later. Ikpeazu drove into the final third unchallenged, and thread a perfectly weighted through ball to Walker, who stuck the ball past Dons keeper Lewis with a little help from the inside of the post.

But Hearts soon found themselves down to ten men, when teenager Hickey was shown a second yellow after bringing down Aberdeen substitute McGinn.

From the resultant free kick the home side were awarded a penalty, after a clumsy challenge by Dikamona on McGinn, and on 80 minutes Cosgrove confidently stepped up to beat Zlamal to get his eight goal in his last five games.

A rejuvenated Dons side then went in search of a winner and were able to do so in emphatic fashion five minutes later.

Full back Greig Leigh bombed forward down the left and clipped the ball into the area. Niall McGinn then backheeled the ball into space, and fellow substitute Hedges was on hand to lash the ball high into the net giving Zlamal absolutely no chance.

The Welshman's strike sent the home crowd into raptures, and Hedges himself went into the book after celebrating with fans in the stands.

The Dons then held out to secure a priceless win going into Thursday's crucial third round Europa League qualifier first leg with HNK Rijeka in Croatia.

Despite their vigorous response, Craig Levein's Hearts went home empty handed, and will be looking to be on the other end of the result next Saturday when they host newly promoted Ross County at Tynecastle. 

Takeaways from the match

A scrappy affair

Referee Dom Robertson had his work cut-out at Pittodrie, issuing a total of eight cards during the course of the match, Aberdeen midfielder Funso Ojo was booked for a cynical challenge on the halfway line, and Jambos striker Ikpeazu also saw yellow for clattering defender Scott McKenna.

The home crowd were visibly irked by some of the challenges by the visiting team, and were calling for the man in black to dish out more cards to the Hearts players. 

Substitutions the key

Both Derek McInnes and Craig Levein were able to call on replacements from their respective benches to good effect.

The Tynecastle team were buoyed by the arrivals of strikers Conor Washington and Steven Naismith, with the former immediately causing the Dons defence problems with his movement and clever runs. Naismith's impact was profound, sending a diving header home to get his side level.

But it was Aberdeen's substitutes that were able to grab the headlines at Pittodrie. Northern Irishmen McGinn came on to win his side a penalty, before teeing up fellow replacement Ryan Hedges, and the former Barnsley winger brilliantly fired home to get Aberdeen off to a perfect start in the Premiership.

Man of the match

Full backs Shay Logan and Greg Leigh produced strong defensive performances for Aberdeen, whilst midfielder Jon Gallagher was industrious and did a lot of running for his team.

But once again it was striker Sam Cosgrove who was pivotal in the outcome of the match, helping himself to two goals.

The Englishman was a constant menace to the Hearts back three, who struggled to compete with his dominance in the air.

The former Carlisle striker took both of goals very well, showing composure to put the Dons a goal up early on, and then providing a cool head from the penalty spot as Hearts desperately tried to hold on to their lead.

Cosgrove has now scored eight goals this season, five of which have came in the Europa League qualifiers, including a hat trick at Pittodrie last Thursday against Chikhura Sachkhere. His brace against the Jambos now takes him on to 29 goals in 49 appearances for Aberdeen, and further cements his place as one of the best marksmen in the business throughout the country.