McCowan scored with a well-executed chip in the second half to give the Dens Park side their first league win of the season and lift them into the top half of the table. But the in-form winger might not even have been in the pitch had Dundee officials got their way after a new team sheet was handed out to reporters with McCowan’s name mysteriously axed from the starting XI.
It is understood that although McCowan’s name had featured in the original line-up, his place was meant to have been taken by Josh Mulligan, the Scotland Under-21 midfielder.
When Dundee later tried to rectify the mistake, they were told by referee Alan Muir that it was too late. A shouting match was said to have taken place between Docherty and Hearts’ technical director Steven Naismith in the bowels of the old Dens Park main stand with the upshot being that McCowan started in midfield. He went on to earn a second man of the match award in two league games at Dens.
The 25-year-old took advantage of a loose pass from Aidan Denholm after Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark had taken a quick free kick. Clark was out of position as McCowan floated in what proved to be the only goal.
“There was something that happened before the game,” acknowledged Docherty. “Human error you put it down to. But it just shows the strength of the squad because it was similar to the Motherwell game where we had Antonio Portales go off injured really early. We had to re-jig it there (and then). That’s what I’m trying to build here so that regardless of anything that crops up we can deal with it.”
Neither camp was particularly forthcoming about what had occurred pre-match. "Twenty minutes after the team sheets went in, someone said they wanted to change their team sheet,” said Naismith. "The ref said that only an injury can change it once they are in.”
The Hearts technical director was more concerned about the anodyne display from his own team as they prepare to head to Greece for another tough test against PAOK Salonika. The Tynecastle side are seeking to turn round a 2-1 deficit to reach the group stage of the Conference League.
Naismith was so unimpressed with his side’s first 45 minutes at Dens that he made three changes at half-time. The alterations briefly roused the visitors, who were backed by a noisy throng of 3,000 travelling fans.
"It was very passive, slow and safe,” he said. “The safety turned into nerves. We then started losing the ball on the halfway line and they chased us back and caused us problems.
"We are a club that wants to be in Europe consistently and I think we have a squad which can deal with that. Today didn't go our way but we need to learn from it and understand that, if you want to be in Europe, there’s a mentality where you need to keep going and going and going. You can't be safe when teams are going to set up to counter you or ask you to push bodies forward.”