Kilmarnock 1 Heart of Midlothian 2
Ladbrokes Premiership – Friday 1st February 2019 – Rugby Park
Hearts recorded their second win of the season at Rugby Park on a night when husky dogs were staying at home in deepest Ayrshire. First half goals from Sean Clare and Steven Naismith gave the visitors a two-goal cushion before Killie pulled a goal back with a penalty.
Hearts manager Craig Levein made two changes from the side that defeated St Johnstone last Saturday. Conor Shaughnessy and Callumn Morrison came in at the expense of Marcus Godinho and Olly Lee.
There was a heavy snowfall in Ayrshire prior to kick-off but the artificial surface at Rugby Park meant such an inconvenience was literally brushed aside. Nearly 800 Hearts fans headed through on a freezing cold first evening of February and they deserve enormous credit for their magnificent support.
Kilmarnock have been mightily impressive under Steve Clarke and Rangers were the latest team to succumb when they lost 2-1 nine days ago. However, Hearts made a bright start and Michael Smith had the ball in the Killie net in the 11th minute only for his ‘goal’ to be rightly disallowed for offside.
Hearts took the lead seven minutes from half-time and it was a superb goal from Sean Clare. The Englishman collected the ball in midfield, strode forward, shrugged off a couple of challenges before drilling home a sweet shot with his right foot which went into the net off the post. It was a brilliant finish from the 22-year-old.
Remarkably, just five minutes later, Hearts were two goals ahead with a move straight from the training ground. The visitors were awarded a free-kick just outside the Killie penalty box. It was taken quickly by Clare who passed to Jake Mulraney. The winger raced down the left before cutting the ball back for Steven Naismith who steered it past Killie keeper Bachmann to score against the team for where it all started for the on-loan Norwich City forward.
Hearts looked in easy street at a ground where few teams have won in recent months, but it isn’t the Gorgie way to do things easily. A minute before half-time, captain Christophe Berra fouled Power in the Hearts penalty box. There was little protest from the Maroons at the award of a penalty and Jones duly converted the spot kick.
Levein made a tactical switch at half-time, taking off Callumn Morrison and replacing him with Olly Lee. It stiffened up the midfield and made Hearts harder to break down.
As you might expect Killie dominated possession in the second half as they chased the equaliser but other than a cross which had Hearts keeper Colin Doyle flapping somewhat, they never seriously threatened to draw parity.
A brilliant result for Hearts, if not perhaps the most stylish of performances. But the team did something they failed to do in defeats from Livingston, St Mirren and Dundee this season – they dug out a result. And now Hearts are just three points off second place.
Something that will warm those Hearts supporters travelling back from darkest frozen Ayrshire.
Kilmarnock: Bachmann, O’Donnell, S. Boyd, Findlay, Taylor (McKenzie, 78′), Power, Dicker, Tshibola, Jones, Burke (Millar, 78′), Ndjoli.
Hearts: Doyle, Smith (Dikamona, 85′), Shaughnessy, Souttar, Berra, Bozanic, Clare, Djoum, Naismith, Mulraney (Mitchell, 68′), Morrison (Lee, 46′).
Referee: Steven McLean
Top man: Sean Clare – a fine goal and he’s beginning to look more confident with every game that passes.