County appeared set for a second win over Edinburgh clubs in the space of a week following Stuart Kettlewell’s 77th-minute strike, but substitute Sutton popped up in the third minute of stoppage time to claim a draw.
Arvydas Novikovas’ opener five minutes before half-time had been cancelled out by a disputed Richard Brittain penalty and Kettlewell’s strike, coupled with Michael Fraser’s heroics in the County goal, appeared set to seal the points for the visitors before Sutton’s late intervention.
It was a bright moment at the end of a challenging week for the Scottish Cup winners.
Hearts have been handed a 60-day transfer embargo for failing to pay wages on schedule and launched a share issue for 10% of the club designed to raise £1.79million, while simultaneously revealing a demand for £1.75m in unpaid tax, which will go to a tribunal next month.
The dispute with Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue could have drastic consequences for the future of the Edinburgh club and centres on the loan agreement for a number of players between Hearts and Lithuanian club Kaunas, who were then run by Vladimir Romanov, the Hearts majority shareholder since 2005.
Two Lithuanians threatened for Hearts early on.
Novikovas popped up in threatening positions and fired wide from 25 yards, while Marius Zaliukas, the Hearts captain, headed wide from a Danny Grainger corner.
Hearts laid siege on the Staggies’ goal and Fraser made a double save when Andrew Driver struck a low shot and Ryan McGowan headed a follow up goalwards.
The visitors responded with a deflected shot wide from Brittain, an Iain Vigurs effort straight at Jamie MacDonald and a wild slice wide by Gary Glen, playing against his former club.
Muted penalty appeals were dismissed when Callum Paterson nipped in ahead of Fraser and went down in the area and Darren Barr was granted a free header from a corner, but County held firm.
Hearts found the breakthrough from an unlikely source.
Zaliukas went on one of his marauding runs forward before slotting a diagonal pass into the right side of the area for the on-running Novikovas to shoot right-footed into the bottom corner.
Fraser got a touch, but the luck was with Hearts as the ball bobbled into the far corner giving Novikovas, who a few moments earlier had switched from the left flank, his third goal of the season.
Driver curled wide late in the first half before causing a nuisance early in the second as the ball broke for Novikovas, whose shot was blocked by the feet of Fraser.
From the resulting corner Barr’s header was cleared off the line by Rocco Quinn.
The visitors equalised when Vigurs was bundled over by Andy Webster following a Brittain cross and referee Craig Charleston immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
Webster was booked for protesting and Brittain sent MacDonald the wrong way as he tucked the ball into the bottom left corner.
A Ryan Stevenson shot was saved by Fraser, with Driver lifting the rebound over, and the goalkeeper was called upon again when Paterson turned a Novikovas cross goal wards.
Vigurs forced MacDonald to save, but the Hearts goalkeeper was beaten soon afterwards.
A pass from Vigurs across the top of the penalty area found Kettlewell, who had time to pick his spot across goal into the bottom corner.
Hearts were not finished, though, and piled forward. Zaliukas clipped the ball in and Sutton shot on the turn to claim a point.