Match ends, Heart of Midlothian 0, Aberdeen 1.
Heart of Midlothian 0-1 Aberdeen
Jonny Hayes' goal proved the difference as Aberdeen left Tynecastle with all three points.
The Dons almost took a first-half lead when Graeme Shinnie crashed a shot against a post, with Adam Rooney unable to turn in the rebound.
The breakthrough came after the break though, Johnny Hayes dispatching Niall McGinn's measured cross.
Jamie Walker drew a fine save from Dons keeper Joe Lewis late on as the visitors held on for a deserved win.
The win takes Aberdeen within two points of second-placed Rangers in the Premiership, with both sides having played 20 matches. The Ibrox side face rivals Celtic on Saturday.
Dons dominate first half
Aberdeen prospered by being assertive and more certain in their attacking play. They set out to isolate Hayes and McGinn on the Hearts full-backs, particularly Liam Smith on the right, and this was a constant source of threat for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes.
Hearts' minds seemed scrambled, as much by the effort of the Aberdeen players in pushing up and closing opponents down but also their own lack of composure. There was no spell of Hearts possession, as their midfield three saw the game pass them by.
Most of the Aberdeen chances came from their flank, with McGinn's cross reaching Kenny McLean, whose header was pushed away by Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton. The goalkeeper had already been relieved when Mark Reynolds headed wide from close range, and he later had to clear frantically when the ball spun off his teammate Faycal Rherras inside the six yard box.
Hearts head coach Ian Cathro tried to alter the flow of the game, bringing Arnaud Djoum deeper and wide, but Aberdeen's central midfielders also imposed themselves and Shinnie rattled a shot off the upright from 20 yards.
Hayes eventually prevails
The play was more even-handed after the break, with Krystian Nowak essentially playing as a third centre-back for Hearts instead of a holding midfielder, and so encouraging Smith and Rherras to push further forward on the flanks, when they could afford to.
It was a measure of the game's dynamic that Hearts' first corner came two minutes into the second half, when Aberdeen had already registered five. Aberdeen still carried the greater threat, and Shay Logan saw an effort from the edge of the area deflected wide.
Hearts' reorganisation stemmed some of Aberdeen's dominance, but not their edge. McGinn and Hayes continued to seek every channel of space to breach the Hearts defence, and when the former surged down the right and whipped the ball across the six yard box, the latter charged in to convert at the back post.
Aberdeen establish superiority
The sense was of one side being sure of its strengths and its game plan, and the other still being a work in progress. That will not offer much relief for Cathro, even if he will hope to build a team that better represents his values during the winter break and January transfer window. It will be no surprise, for instance, if two new full-backs are sought.
His key players were mostly marginal, and Djoum was replaced during the second half. Walker remained the most effective, and a spin and shot inside the area drew a good save from Aberdeen goalkeeper Lewis.
Even so, it was the visitors who were the more assertive, more imposing side. With some more composure and sharper instincts inside the area from Rooney, they would have won the game more comfortably.
The display, and the result, emphasised that, for now, it is Aberdeen who are the more fully-formed and capable team, and the likelier to challenge for second place in the Premiership.
Hearts manager Ian Cathro: "Initially, we lost the fight to make the game the way that we wanted it to be. It was difficult for us to get started and the game became closer to what Aberdeen wanted.
"In the second half, with a couple of adjustments, we became a little bit stronger, a better structure and we were able to play more often. A combination of not generating enough chances and some mistakes defensively resulted in us losing the game.
"We wanted the game to be more open with more possession and more control than direct, wide, foul, free-kick, those sorts of things. I don't have any question about the willingness of the players to fight and they deserve credit for getting through the first-half, which was difficult.
"My Hearts team will always play in a way which I think the players here can play. Will we look to add players of a different type to the squad? Yes, but that will be work through the January transfer window."
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes: "We were guilty of missing chances. It was fiercely contested, but there were good moments of play from us. Once we did play in the final third, we created more than one or two opportunities.
"Everybody talks about the Tynecastle atmosphere but when the Hearts team goes off to boos at half time, you say that's part of the job done but we need to crank it up more.
"I'm delighted that Johnny Hayes was on the end of that and scored. There's no doubt in my mind that we were the better team, we were tidy, making good decisions when to play and when to hold things on, and recognising the strengths of the Hearts team.
"Maybe some sort of criticism on me is being over reliant on the same team and that fatigue and demands on them, so hopefully with people pushing and one or two things happening in January, we can look forward to a strong finish to the season."
- 24SmithBooked at 89mins
- 4RossiSubstituted forMuirheadat 82'minutes
- 10Sutchuin-DjoumSubstituted forCurrieat 74'minutes
- 20JohnsenBooked at 67mins
- 2LoganBooked at 8mins
- 5TaylorBooked at 18mins
- 10McGinnSubstituted forO'Connorat 87'minutes
- William Collum
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Heart of Midlothian 0, Aberdeen 1.
Attempt missed. Don Cowie (Heart of Midlothian) header from the centre of the box is too high.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Ryan Jack.
Liam Smith (Heart of Midlothian) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Liam Smith (Heart of Midlothian).
Substitution, Aberdeen. Anthony O'Connor replaces Niall McGinn.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Joe Lewis.
Attempt saved. Jamie Walker (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Graeme Shinnie.
Attempt blocked. Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Foul by Ryan Jack (Aberdeen).
Jamie Walker (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Robbie Muirhead replaces Igor Rossi.
Attempt saved. Kenny McLean (Aberdeen) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Corner, Aberdeen. Conceded by Krystian Nowak.
Foul by Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen).
Jamie Walker (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Kenny McLean (Aberdeen) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Krystian Nowak (Heart of Midlothian).
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Rory Currie replaces Arnaud Djoum.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Kenny McLean (Aberdeen) because of an injury.
Bjorn Johnsen (Heart of Midlothian) is shown the yellow card.
Goal! Heart of Midlothian 0, Aberdeen 1. Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner.
Attempt missed. Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right.
Attempt missed. Liam Smith (Heart of Midlothian) header from the centre of the box is too high following a corner.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Kenny McLean.
Foul by Andrew Considine (Aberdeen).
Liam Smith (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Niall McGinn (Aberdeen).
Igor Rossi (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Adam Rooney (Aberdeen) with an attempt from the centre of the box misses to the right.
Foul by Andrew Considine (Aberdeen).
Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Corner, Aberdeen. Conceded by Liam Smith.
Attempt missed. Kenny McLean (Aberdeen) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left following a corner.
Corner, Aberdeen. Conceded by Perry Kitchen.
Attempt blocked. Shaleum Logan (Aberdeen) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.