HEARTS stretched their lead at the top of the Championship to a dozen points last night while rarely being stretched themselves.
Scorers: Keatings 25, Paterson 61
A slippery surface helped ensure that the Tynecastle side were not quite at their free-flowing best, but apart from a spell at the start of the second half Cowdenbeath rarely looked like denying Robbie Neilson’s team a sixth consecutive league win.
Any notion that the Tynecastle team were at risk of losing their focus and jeopardising their long unbeaten run in this rearranged league fixture was quickly dispelled as they imposed themselves on the game from the opening minutes.
A first-half goal from James Keatings put them in front, and a magnificent second-half strike by Callum Paterson made sure of the points.
It must be said that Cowdenbeath, who remain precariously positioned in eighth place, two points ahead of Alloa, competed well throughout. But Hearts were faster and more skilful, and apart from the very odd lapse in concentration can regard this as a highly competent if unspectacular victory.
Neilson chose to rest Alim Ozturk as a precaution because of a slight hamstring strain, and fielded right-back Callum Paterson up front alongside Keatings. That meant places in the back four for Brad McKay and Jordan McGhee, while Morgaro Gomis, back after suspension, was the other change to the team that beat Alloa 2-0 at the weekend. Billy King and Scott Robinson were the omissions in addition to Ozturk.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
Cowdenbeath manager Jimmy Nicholl also made three changes to his line-up from their last-gasp victory at Queen of the South four days earlier. In came Chris Kane, Craig Johnston and Liam Callaghan, and out went Calum Gallagher, Jon Robertson and Declan Hughes.
Jamie Walker was the only recognised winger in Hearts’ midfield quartet, but played at the apex of a diamond formation and was a threat to the home defence from the opening moments. Squeezing past several defenders inside the penalty area, he created the first chance of the game on his own, and came close to finishing it off too, as his shot from a tight angle was deflected past the post for a corner.
Paterson was the target for a regular series of high balls as Hearts mixed up their game on a slippery surface, but on the whole they attacked on the ground, with Adam Eckersley pushing up on the left and enjoying some success in his attempts to get behind the defence.
Midway through the first half Walker ghosted in on the left to meet a deep cross from McGhee, but his firmly-hit half-volley was well saved by Robbie Thomson. However, the goalkeeper was powerless two minutes later to prevent Hearts taking the lead.
Miguel Pallardo found Eckersley, and from the byeline the Englishman found Keatings, who shot home from 12 yards.
The striker almost made it two direct from a free kick barely a minute later, but his curled effort came back off the base of the left post.
Ten minutes later, he and Paterson combined to force a mistake from the defence, but they over-elaborated when Paterson should have shot, and the threat was cleared.
Cowdenbeath occasionally looked dangerous on the break, but had no more than the odd off-target shot to show for their efforts.
Hearts, while remaining patient and disciplined, were invariably too fast for their opponents, and when Keatings and Paterson again combined two minutes before half time, the latter should have done better than drag a shot wide.
A long-range effort by Lewis Milne at the second half, although comfortably saved by Neil Alexander, was a reminder to Hearts that the match was far from over. So too was a shot by Sean Higgins, after an excellent run through the middle by Colin Marshall, that Alexander had to put a lot more effort into stopping.
Sam Nicholson replaced Keatings with half an hour to play, but before he had had time to get involved, Hearts doubled their lead.
Pallardo crossed from the left for Paterson, who cushioned the ball with a header, chested it into a promising position, and then, with no one closing him down, unleashed a ferocious volley which Thomson had no chance of stopping. Craig Sutherland, who had replaced Callaghan at the start of the second half, had a chance to reduce the deficit when a mix-up in the Hearts defence sent a looping deflection into his path. But his first-time shot skidded off the outside of his right boot and went behind.
Higgins had a late chance to pull a goal back, but Alexander smothered his downward header on the line. On the balance of play in the second half it would hardly have been an injustice had Cowdenbeath scored, but similarly, Hearts might well have added one or two more goals.
Cowdenbeath: Thomson, O’Brien, Wedderburn, Milne, Kane (Campbell 72), Miller, Johnston (Jurisic 82), Callaghan (Sutherland 46), Marshall, Halsman, Higgins. Subs not used: Sneddon, Brownlie, Lynas, Scullion.
Hearts: Alexander, McGhee, McKay, Wilson, Eckersley, Walker (Buchanan 88), Buaben (Holt 82), Gomis, Pallardo, Paterson, Keatings (Nicholson 60). Subs not used: Gallacher, Robinson, Oliver, Flanagan.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS