DAYS don’t come much worse than this for Hearts, who lost the match, three goals and a barrowload of confidence into the bargain.
Scorers: Kilmarnock - Heffernan 42, 65, 71
Referee: Craig Thomson.
Add to that the head injury to Darren Barr that had Tynecastle holding its breath, and you can see why John McGlynn, their manager, was glad to see the back of this one.
Barr has recovered, but only after extensive treatment that included oxygen in the dressing room. Hearts may take longer to get back on their feet after a traumatic outing in which they were floored by Paul Heffernan’s ruthless hat-trick. With just one win in eight – and that a 1-0 home defeat of Dundee – McGlynn’s side are in danger of losing touch with the SPL pack.
They played ten Scots in their starting line-up, most of them youngsters, but their biggest problem was in defence. Sure, Heffernan was sharp and clinical but the absence through injury of Marius Zaliukas, as well as Barr’s departure before half-time, made their back four unrecognisable from the one that has been their strength for much of the season.
“It’s a sore one to take,” said McGlynn. “Losing 3-0 at home to Kilmarnock is not acceptable. That’s not the way we have been defending.”
Kilmarnock, on the other hand, are up to fifth position after their third win in three matches against Hearts this season. They are unbeaten in their last eight games against the Edinburgh side. It is nearly three years since they lost at Tynecastle. “Can we play you every week?” chanted the travelling support.
Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels was delighted his team had been such convincing winners at a time of year when the pitches do not suit his passing philosophy. “To beat a club of the magnitude of Hearts three times in the one season is a magnificent effort by the players,” said Shiels, right. “I’m sure they’ve not done that in modern times, so that’s another record we have broken. I’m proud of that.”
After a pedestrian opening half-hour, the atmosphere was reduced to an eerie hush by the head knock that did for Barr. It has to be said that the defender, deputising for Zaliukas at centre-half, had not been enjoying the most comfortable of afternoons but it got distinctly worse when he and Danny Wilson rose to meet the same ball on the edge of their own penalty area. As Wilson nodded it back to his goalkeeper, the two cracked heads. After a brief period of treatment, Wilson went off to have stitches inserted but Barr lay motionless on the ground. Eventually, he was stretchered round the touchline to respectful applause while a bandaged Wilson returned to the fray, together with substitute Dylan McGowan. McGlynn later confirmed that Barr had suffered concussion. It was a disturbing incident, one that extended the first half by six minutes and killed off what little momentum Hearts had. In a forgettable opening period, only Jamie Walker threatened for the home side, first with a header that drifted well over and then with a low shot on target, saved by Cammy Bell.
Kilmarnock were no more incisive but after the hiatus caused by Barr’s departure, it was they who were quickest to find some rhythm. With their first attempt on goal, they took the lead. James Dayton collected a cross-field pass wide on the left and swung a perfect ball across the six-yard box, allowing Heffernan to sidefoot home from close range.
The half-time interval was an opportunity for fans to flick through the match programme, the first in Scotland to have been produced in 3D. Those who parted with £3 for the privilege were also given a pair of fetching glasses, although few in the stadium seemed to be wearing them. Oddly, given what was to follow, there was another dimension to Hearts’ play early in the second half. Scott Robinson’s dipping shot was pushed away by Bell, who then had to punch clear a free-kick hit straight at him by Fraser Mullen.
There was also a header by John Sutton, on at half-time for Jason Holt, which looped over the bar. But their newfound endeavour only made Hearts susceptible to Kilmarnock’s counter-attacks, which were lethal. One almost brought a goal when Dayton’s shot was saved. Another led to a corner, from which Killie doubled their lead. Dayton picked out William Gros, who rose above Michael Ngoo at the back post. That header set up Heffernan, who crashed the ball high into the net. As the striker celebrated, Dayton was substituted, having injured himself while taking the corner.
Six minutes later, Kilmarnock had their third. The first chance fell to Borja Perez but, when Jamie MacDonald palmed the ball away, Heffernan was on hand to stroke it over the line. As he celebrated, the little striker stuffed the ball up the front of his shirt. For Hearts, it was hard to stomach.