Heart of Midlothian fell to a 2-1 defeat to lowly Ross County after a largely poor performance in Dingwall.

Steven Naismith's men had hoped to head into the international break with a win to strengthen their position in third with Kilmarnock and St Mirren, the closest challengers playing each other.

However, two Simon Murray goals, either side of half-time, gave struggling County and their manager Don Cowie a crucial win despite Yutaro Oda's late consolation.

Joel Sked looks back at the game.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith Q&A: 'Poor defending', Kingsley free-kick, injured players hope

Late goals but not enough

There were groans amongst the Ross County support when the fourth official signaled for six minutes of added-on time. The home side, in a relegation battle, were leading 2-0 but Hearts were still searching for a way back into the game. They had been pushing since conceding a second after the break. And had come close. But a goal didn't arrive until substitute Yutaro Oda got free in the box and fired into the back of the net via the post. That was at the start of stoppage time but it was all they could muster.

There was definitely the sense that if the team had scored earlier, which they thought they had (more on that later), they would have got a draw. But it wasn't to be.

It is a rare feeling amongst the Hearts support, defeat. But over the piece, it was deserved. With the hold the team have on third place it can be put down as one of those days but there will certainly be aspects of the performance and setup that will likely see Naismith and his coaching staff want to address. 

Sloppy start turned into sloppy half

Hearts could have no one to blame other than themselves when they fell behind towards the end of the first half. The opening 45 minutes were largely sloppy from Steven Naismith's men. In possession, the ball wasn't moved well enough with a lot of bobbly passes that were behind teammates. More of an issue was taking too long on the ball against an opposition that wanted to win it back quickly.

But the main problem came with defending against County's front two and the main culprits were Toby Sibbick and Kye Rowles. The Australian centre-back was guilty of being beaten to the ball far too easily by Simon Murray early on. The former Hibs striker squared for Jordan White who remarkably turned the ball over from underneath the bar.

It was a wake-up call that wasn't heeded. The Hearts backline allowed themselves to be pushed around far too easily by White and Murray.

Naismith had clearly seen enough of the team's performance in a 4-3-3 system, even after pulling Beni Baningime across to issue instructions. For the last 15 minutes of the half he switched to a back three with Alan Forrest moving to left wing-back and Stephen Kingsley between Sibbick and Rowles. The visitors managed to get control and created openings with Kenneth Vargas hitting the bar. But as Hearts increased the pressure that soft centre reared its head once more.

Murray was found by Yan Dhanda, he had a shot repelled by Zander Clark and Sibbick looked to have cleaned up only to allow Murray to nip in front of him and steer past the Hearts goalkeeper.

Sibbick and Rowles

The defensive pair are two players who can, from time to time, make Hearts fans nervy. In the absence of Craig Halkett and Frankie Kent both have come back into the fold. Rowles had been dropped after the heavy loss to Rangers while Sibbick had barely featured this year.

Both were excellent in the win over Celtic and impressed as Hearts saw off Greenock Morton in the Scottish Cup. However, they required a run of consistent performances to extinguish any doubts fans had of them. That run didn't continue in Dingwall. 

As stated, both had really poor moments in the first half and were part of the defence who gave up a really easy goal after the break to Murray once more. 

Both can suffer from not being aggressive enough and switched on and focused for 90 minutes. When you come up against a livewire like Murray you can't allow your focus to drop for a second. Unfortunately, there were a fair few seconds.

READ MORE: What Don Cowie said about Yan Dhanda's performance against Hearts

Cochrane and the midfield

“He’s got good qualities... he's an intelligent footballer," Steven Naismith told Hearts Standard about Alex Cochrane and why he likes to play him in midfield. The Englishman was stationed in the midfield three from the start at Dingwall and it is fair to say it wasn't his most productive 45 minutes in the position.

In fairness, the same could be said of the midfield three in general. Cochrane went to wing-back at the start of the second half and Aidan Denholm was hooked before the hour mark.

Hearts had 58 per cent of possession in the first half but it didn't feel like anything near that. That's perhaps because the ball was not used well enough with little cohesive build-up through the thirds. There is a strong argument that both Jorge Grant and Macaulay Tait would have helped in such a situation. 

Dhanda watch

With Yan Dhanda named in the Ross County XI to face the team he is set to join in the summer, there was always going to be plenty of attention on the midfielder. Even more so after he had scored the equaliser against Hibs on Wednesday in Dingwall and celebrated in front of the away end before revealing that his uncle, understood to be from Midlothian, is a Hearts season-ticket holder. It didn't take long for the 2,000 traveling fans to sing his name, stating "he's one of our own".

Hearts Standard:

It was evident the 25-year-old had been given a free role behind County's front two. He drifted and floated around the pitch, adding nice flourishing. There was a nice touch to set up a pass behind the Hearts defence. He dropped deep to play a composed pass out of his own defensive third and it was his floated ball in behind that led to the first goal. He was someone Hearts could have done with in their midfield.

He showed his gritty side as well with a sliding tackle on Shankland and he clashed with Nathaniel Atkinson after fouling the Aussie.

When replaced he earned a standing ovation from the home support.

READ MORE: Yan Dhanda reveals Hearts connection: 'Massive club that my family loves'

VAR frustration

With the team 2-0 down the intensity and tempo were upped. County were pushed back and Hearts pressed for a way back into the game. As they did when 2-0 down at home to the Staggies and also Dundee earlier in the season.

Alan Forrest went close when he hit the woodwork. Kenneth Vargas steered a header towards the top corner but it was saved by George Wickens.

Amongst that came to decisions which will no doubt frustrate Steven Naismith and Lawrence Shankland. The Hearts captain looked to have been floored when he turned with the ball in the box. Referee Grant Irvine was in doubt, he immediately reached for his yellow and booked the striker. Replays suggested it was certainly worthy of a VAR intervention. It didn't come.

Fast forward a little later and Stephen Kingsley had curled an excellent free-kick into the corner of the net. It looked like Hearts had got back into the game. Only for a VAR check, a VAR intervention and a second look by Irvine. Naismith felt it was fine having watched it on the team's monitor. Irvine thought otherwise and signaled offside for Shankland.

It summed up a frustrating afternoon in Dingwall.

Away win wait

Hearts have been much improved away from home this season. With nine victories outside of EH11, the team need just one more for the highest return in the top flight - and first in double figures - since the 1991/92 season. Against one of the poorest sides in the league, it seemed the ideal afternoon to secure that win especially with the away games left being St Mirren and then after the split.

The team were backed by more than 2,100 Hearts fans. They were in a fine voice well before kick-off singing of Europe, a new Alex Cochrane song and what Hibs fans may be doing on a Thursday night in the future. They backed the team throughout but didn't get the away win they perhaps expected.

The wait goes on.