JOHN McGLYNN has seen his side lose twice to Kilmarnock this season. However, the manager reckons Hearts should have had an extra six points on the board from their games against the Rugby Park side.
He was certainly justified in saying that his team were unlucky to come away from Ayrshire empty-handed yesterday. Killie’s only goal came through a Liam Kelly penalty after Andy Webster had brought James Dayton down in the area, but Hearts had more than enough chances to win this match twice over.
They dominated possession and created opening after opening against Kenny Shiels’ side, only to be foiled by a combination of poor finishing and a keeper in fine form in the shape of Cammy Bell.
Despite seeing his side’s impressive recent run – Hearts had taken seven points from a possible nine – grind to a halt, McGlynn had few complaints about the shift his players put in. “Every SPL game is very, very close,” said McGlynn. “Yesterday we just couldn’t put the ball into the back of the net. We have been scoring goals in recent weeks so I can’t mump and moan too much. The players showed a great attitude, they worked really hard.
“We have played them twice now and I believe that we should have had the six points [the first game was a 3-1 defeat at Tynecastle in September] but unfortunately it is them who have got the six points.”
After scoring two goals in each of the three previous outings, McGlynn again went with two up front, with Gordon Smith and John Sutton continuing in attack. The only change from Sunday’s win over Dundee United saw Mehdi Taouil coming into midfield at the expense of Dylan McGowan, who dropped to the bench.
Smith has been impressive since forcing his way into the starting line-up against Aberdeen earlier this month and the 21-year-old took only a couple of minutes to combine with his strike partner and tee up Andy Driver for a shot.
The winger’s effort flew high over the bar, but it signalled Hearts’ attacking intent from the off. Killie broke forward with just over 20 minutes gone and when Cillian Sheridan, who had scored a hat-trick in the first game at Tynecastle, whipped the ball in from the right, it looked as though the hosts would break the deadlock.
However, Hearts right-back Ryan McGowan produced a brilliant challenge in the box just as Dayton was about to pull the trigger.
Ryan Stevenson, fresh from netting a double in the win over Dundee United on Sunday, then tried his luck from long range. His shot didn’t have too much power in it but it seemed to catch Bell out, the keeper managing to scramble across his goal to tip it away.
Sutton and Killie centre-back Michael Nelson battled to reach the loose ball just a yard or two out, but it ended with the referee blowing for a foul in favour of the home side.
What proved to be the decisive moment in the game came 25 minutes in when Killie were awarded a spot kick after Webster brought Dayton down inside the box. Kelly, below, duly stepped up and showed a cool head to send Jamie MacDonald the wrong way, the keeper diving to his left and the Killie player slotting the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Hearts themselves had the ball in the back of the net before half-time through a peach of a finish from Smith, but the referee blew just as it thundered beyond Bell, judging a jump from Sutton in the build-up to have been a foul on Momo Sissoko.
Smith had looked the most likely man to score for Hearts, and the striker saw a header miss by inches just before the break. McGlynn was delighted with Smith’s contribution. “Gordon is a real handful and I thought he got a good effort in, it was just one of those things,” said the manager. “The referee blew, but I thought that the two players just clashed together. I didn’t think it was a foul.
“I’m not sure it wasn’t something to do with the fact that we didn’t give them the ball back from the throw-in. Maybe he was being generous.”
After the break, Bell did well to rise to his left to push Driver’s curling effort over the bar for a corner.
Then it was Taouil’s turn to be denied against his former club. McGowan’s cross from the right was knocked into the midfielder’s path and Bell made himself tall and blocked with both hands outstretched in front of him.
One of the best chances of the match fell to sub Callum Paterson when a long ball out of defence set him free, but again Bell was more than equal to him, standing up well and managing to block the shot.
McGlynn admitted: “It was a big chance for Callum. He had a similar chance earlier in the season and he hit that one a bit too early as well, so hopefully he will learn from that.
“The goalkeeper was a fair bit out from his goal and, the pace that Callum was running at, he could easily have knocked it by him into an empty net, but it’s very easy to say these things when you’re sitting in the dug-out or in the stand.
“He did really well to get into that situation. He won the ball inside his own half, ran clear and showed a lot of composure.”
In the dying minutes, Hearts skipper Marius Zaliukas was booked for pulling down Paul Heffernan and from the free kick, just outside the area, Sheridan was unfortunate to see his bending effort go just past MacDonald’s post.
Kilmarnock assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl, who has been in the dugout in recent weeks while boss Kenny Shiels serves a ban, admitted his side had been fortunate to come away with all three points from a game dominated by the visitors.
He said: “That was backs to the wall. In the first half I thought that we played reasonably well. There was a good pace to the game and it was much better than it has been. We were very direct. In the second half we just couldn’t get out. They put in some shift.
“Sometimes you have got to give the opposition credit if they don’t allow you to play the way you like. We’re just glad to get the three points. Our goalkeeper was brave, there were lots of goalmouth incidents and our players were back there doing their jobs. You’ve got to be pleased with that.”