THE value of having a player capable of making the most of goalscoring opportunities was underlined in this one. In a match Hearts could have won, their inability to convert their domination of the first half into something more tangible was their undoing.
Hearts - Zaliukas (88)
Kilmarnock - Sheridan (32, 51, 62)
Referee: B Madden
Kilmarnock on the other hand had far less possession, far fewer chances but they took the three they did get and left Edinburgh with the victory.
For that, Kenny Shiels’ men have Cillian Sheridan to thank. Hearts huffed and puffed and took 88 minutes to finally score, but by then it was too late. The Killie striker broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute and by the 61st he had completed his hat-trick.
“We did what we had to do,” said Kilmarnock Manuel Pascali. ”We knew that Hearts are very dangerous at set-pieces and scored a couple of goals in their previous match from free-kicks. We were maybe a bit lucky to get through the first 15 minutes because they started better than us, but we knew there would be more chances for us to play once we got the first goal.
“Cillian was excellent. He got three goals and maybe could even have scored more. He helped make it a great day for us.”
Having been on the receiving end of the 23-year-old’s clinical finishing while he was at St Johnstone, the Rugby Park skipper believes they have made a wonderful acquisition. “I played against Cillian in the past and he is a real handful of a striker. He reminds me a bit of Connor Sammon because he is big, strong, has pace and can finish. He has got everything, really. We are lucky to have added him to our team and he was great in this match.”
Hearts could have had the advantage long before the visitors scored. They spent most of the first half occupying their guests half and it was Pascali who had to intervene with a brilliantly timed tackle in the 13th minute. It was necessary after Michael Nelson left his passback short and Callum Paterson pounced but as he homed in on goal, the Italian got a boot in to block. He sent the Hearts kid sprawling in the process but it was deemed a solid challenge by the ref, much to the chagrin of the Tynecastle locals.
Hearts then failed to capitalise with chances for Arvydas Novikovas and Paterson all soaring over the bar.
Sheridan was far more proficient. His first chance came just after the half hour mark and he took it. With Ryan McGowan temporarily off the pitch replacing a contact lens, James Dayton took advantage, roaming into the space vacated by the full-back before picking out the former Celtic and CSKA Sofia striker with his cross and for the second time in two games, Sheridan found the net with a header.
Having been in control for so long, it left Hearts rattled. But Kilmarnock have a positive record in Gorgie and it is now six matches since Hearts came out on top in this head-to-head. While Pascali could not pin point why that should be, he was happy that the record had been extended.
“‘I don’t know why we do so well at Tynecastle. It’s unbelievable. Sometimes you enjoy coming to a place like this because it is such a fantastic stadium. But it just seems to be a great place for the Killie community.
“We won 3-0 here a couple of years ago, with Connor Sammon and Alexei Eremenko scoring. We won last year as well, so it looks like we always fancy playing here.”
The win moves them up to third place in the league.
“We can celebrate this result but we still have a lot to do. If we can stay together as we have shown in recent games then I am confident we can achieve something very important this season. It was the second 3-1 win in a row for us. I don’t know if I can ever remember us scoring six goals and winning two games in a row. It must have been a long time ago. But we have to keep our feet on the ground as there is a long campaign ahead. If we show maturity then I think we can have a very good season.”
If they do, Sheridan will undoubtedly play his part in it. A free agent as he left Bulgaria, Hearts could have snapped him up, but instead John McGlynn is left to rue the lack of a consistent goal threat in his ranks while Kilmarnock are reaping the benefits. The tall talisman added his second in the 50th minute, after he was played through by Pascali and he used his pace to burst in on goal. Hearts claimed vehemently for offside and it did look a close call, but no-one can doubt the coolness of the finish with the outside of his left foot.
The third came 11 minutes later with Kilmarnock looking far more at ease with proceedings and passing the ball with greater fluency. It was a set piece swung in close enough to tempt Jamie MacDonald but the Hearts keeper failed to hold the ball leaving the simpliest of tap-ins for Sheridan.
Hearts defender Marius Zaliukas scored in the 88th minute – the defenders third in two games – but it was way too late to mean much to the disgruntled home support.