Hearts inflicted terrible, and probably fatal, damage on Aberdeen’s title challenge, coming from behind to win a tumultuous game at a packed Tynecastle.
Simon Church scored early for Aberdeen, but Juanma cancelled it out before the break and then scored again early in the second half.
For a team apparently beset by a virus less than a week ago, Hearts were big and strong and deserving of their win.
They closed the gap on second-placed Aberdeen to nine points.
Their triumph gave Celtic the opportunity to extend their lead at the top to eight points – title-winning territory, surely – when they play Motherwell on Saturday.
Dons off to a flying start
For all of that, Aberdeen got off to the kind of start that manager Derek McInnes would have dreamed about, Church scoring after just four minutes.
Graeme Shinnie who caused the original panic in the Hearts defence, attacking John Souttar, an uncomfortable right-back early on, before whipping in a cross that Welshman Church put away with aplomb.
In Adam Rooney’s continuing absence through injury, Church has been a terrific stand-in, a January signing who has now scored six goals.
The Dons bombarded their hosts for the next 10 minutes. They unleashed incessant fire on the Hearts defence and created chances for Niall McGinn, Shay Logan and Craig Storie – all of them coming and going without that precious second goal arriving.
And how they would rue those missed chances. Midway through the half, Hearts started to motor. Physically beaten in the opening minutes, they now started winning the one-on-one battles, imposing themselves on Aberdeen and hassling them into nervy error upon nervy error.
Aberdeen were jumpy at the back. Blazej Augustyn had a header pawed away by Scott Brown and, later, Ash Taylor had to be alert to deny Juanma, then Brown had to tip over a free kick from Alim Ozturk.
The equaliser came soon enough, Ozturk given the space to fire a shot on goal from distance which Brown could only beat into Juanma’s path. No Aberdeen player went with the striker and he scored with ease.
Hearts take charge
The visitors were under the cosh and their evening got worse again when Ryan Jack, their captain, was carried off on a stretcher off before the break.
Tynecastle, bursting at the seams again, sensed a big night for their team and, sure enough, Hearts came out of the blocks quickly in the second half.
Prince Buaben was denied by scrambling Aberdeen defending, then Igor Rossi slapped a shot off Brown’s left-hand post, both of those moments a mere prelude to Jamie Walker’s excellence in creating Hearts’, and Juanma’s second.
Walker’s work in delivering a gorgeous cross for his striker – and his game in general – was outstanding. Juanma’s finish was too much for Brown, but much of the credit for it has to go to Walker for his determination and class.
The frenetic nature of the game hardly relented. Walker could have made it three at one end and McGinn could have levelled it at the other. Aberdeen piled forward in the closing minutes but they could not break their opponents.
For Hearts, it was an important win after two recent losses. For Aberdeen, a catastrophe, purely and simply.