It won’t be a happy Hogmanay for Dundee United fans after this remarkable match at Tynecastle ended in a 3-2 defeat.
Billy Mckay gave them a dream start with a penalty on just two minutes but Hearts then hit back through Gavin Reilly, Prince Buaben and an Osman Sow spotkick.
The visitors grabbed a lifeline just before the break thanks to a freekick from Scott Fraser but Mark Durnan’s red card and the serious-looking injury to Callum Morris all within a minute of the Fraser goal – put them on the back foot once again.
It didn’t get any better when they had to replace Mckay at half-time so depleted United found themselves restarting without two of their central defenders and main striker.
That proved too high a hurdle to climb and they go into the new year 10 points adrift of second-bottom Kilmarnock.
After a 2015 to forget, they will be desperate to get the new year off to a winning start when they go to Dens Park to face Dundee on Saturday.
The Tangerines were unchanged from the side that drew 2-2 with Inverness Caley Thistle in their last match, with even the substitutes the same as they were for that December 19 clash.
Tynecastle was packed including the 744 United fans in the corner – and the noise level was high as the visitors got the action under way.
United goalie Michal Szromnik had hearts in mouths when he raced out to try to deal with a long ball. Instead of booting clear he tried to be clever and ended up losing possession, although the danger was cleared before Sow could pounce.
Having survived that scare the Tannadice men took a dramatic lead on just two minutes.
Midfielder Fraser was running inside the box, just to the left of goal, when he was fouled by Juwon Oshinawa. It was a clear penalty and up stepped Mckay to drive the spotkick past Jam Tarts keeper Neil Alexander.
United kept going forward and Chris Erskine snatched at his shot at the edge of the area when a little bit of composure was required.
Szromnik did well to save from Sam Nicholson but the ball ricocheted back goalwards and the Pole had Morris to thank for clearing off the line.
The pace of the match was tremendous and there was another goal on 18 minutes, with Hearts pulling level.
Reilly was the scorer, shooting home at the back post after a Nicholson corner was flicked on by Alim Ozturk. It was all too easy for the Tynecastle player.
Reilly headed wide from a good position and Erskine shot straight at Alexander before the home team made it 2-1, with help from Szromnik.
Buaben was the scorer on 25 minutes with a shot from outside the box that really should have been dealt with by Szromnik. Instead, the United goalie showed weak hands and merely pushed the ball into the net.
Just five minutes later, it was 3-1 to the Jam Tarts.
With the Tangerines looking all at sea at the back, Morris tackled Billy King inside the box and ref Bobby Madden pointed to the spot. Along came Sow to punish United.
On 35 minutes, the visitors came within a whisker of getting one back when Erskine scooped a low corner from Fraser just over the Hearts bar.
With just a minute of the first half to go, United seemed to get themselves right back into the match when a Fraser freekick from the right went straight in without anyone touching the ball.
However, it went from good to very bad for them just a minute later when Durnan was given a straight red for taking down Reilly with a professional foul.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Morris was then stretchered off after being injured in the move that led to his teammate’s dismissal. He was replaced by Sean Dillon before an incredible half came to a finish.
The Tangerines made another change at the break, with scorer Mckay replaced by Blair Spittal.
Szromnik saved brilliantly and at close range from Reilly on 58 minutes to keep the Hearts lead at one, then Reilly shot past the post when it looked easier to score.
United were hanging in there, though, and had Gavin Gunning to thank to booting the ball out of the goalmouth after Szromnik had saved from King, while sub Arnaud Djoum and Nicholson all missed decent chances for the hosts.
A John Rankin shot tested Alexander then Dillon was next to the rescue for the Tangerines when the loose ball bobbled about the United goalmouth.
Erskine broke upfield in a promising move on 80 minutes but it came to nothing as Souttar’s cross from the right was cut out and that was that for United.
Hearts: Alexander, Ozturk, Gomis (Djoum 46), Buaben, Sow (Swanson 80), Nicholson (Zanatta 83), King, Oshaniwa, Rossi, Reilly, McGhee. Subs not used: Hamilton, Augustyn, Pallardo, Buchanan.
Dundee United: Szromnik, Dixon, Morris (45), Mckay (Spittal 46), Rankin, Erskine, McGowan, Durnan, Gunning, Fraser, Demel (Souttar 79). Subs not used: Zwick, Murray, Spark, Bodul.
Referee: Bobby Madden.