A WIN by five goals without reply that takes your team six points clear at the top of the league is usually an occasion for some self-congratulation. But not for Robbie Neilson.
Scorers: El Hassnaoui 14, Walker 30, Sow 43 & 90, Keatings 87
In an illustration of the unrelenting professionalism that has taken hold at Tynecastle this season, Hearts’ head coach preferred to concentrate on his players’ shortcomings yesterday, insisting they should have taken the chance to augment a goal difference that after seven games already stands at plus 18.
“I was pleased and we played well at times but I felt we could have done more,” Neilson said after a one-sided Championship contest in which his team were three ahead by half-time. “We did move the ball quickly and exposed them, but we didn’t do as much as I would
“Even though we scored five goals, we probably should have scored more. Their ’keeper had some great saves, but our finishing and decision making wasn’t great.
“If we’re going to win the league, we need to take every opportunity to rack some goals up. We’re getting chances, which is pleasing, but we need to score them.”
Rangers have a chance to cut that lead to three points when they play Hibernian at Ibrox tonight, and Hearts defender Alim Ozturk said he was looking forward to “sitting on the couch and seeing how they respond to the pressure”. But as far as Neilson is concerned, this evening’s game verges on the irrelevant: his own team are out in front, and they will stay there provided they keep winning.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Rangers, Hibs or Queen of the South playing yesterday, today or tomorrow,” he added. “If we keep taking care of our stuff, we’ll be up at the top.”
Neilson was certainly right to say his team could have scored more, and to praise the role of Livingston’s Darren Jamieson in keeping the final tally down. Even before they were forced into an uncomfortable defensive reshuffle after losing captain Jason Talbot to a head knock, the visitors were struggling to contain the menace of Osman Sow and Soufian El Hassnaoui, playing together for the first time up front.
El Hassnaoui, making his first start, opened the scoring with a simple effort which exposed the shortcomings of the Livingston defence. Gathering a pass on the edge of the box, the former Moroccan under-21 international turned his man and scored into the left corner of the net. The lead was no more than Hearts deserved at the end of an opening quarter-hour which they had completely dominated, with Callum Paterson, Osman Sow and Jamie Walker all having had chances in that time.
With half an hour played, an Alim
Ozturk free kick from 25 yards came back off the woodwork and El Hassnaoui was wide with the rebound. The doubling of Hearts’ lead was only delayed by a minute, however. With Livingston down to ten men as David Robertson waited to replace Talbot, Walker made progress down the left, and, with no-one cutting him down, he shot home with the aid of a deflection from a tight angle.
Sow had a half-chance minutes later to make it three from a long Danny Wilson clearance, but Jamieson closed him down and blocked his somewhat tentative shot. Former Hearts striker Gary Glen then shot over from a Mark Burchill cutback, just to remind the home team that they were not quite sure of the points yet, but it was no more than a brief moment of optimism for Livingston.
As if they did not have problems enough trying to keep their opponents at bay, Livingston gave away a third goal minutes before half-time when a loose pass by Keigan Jacobs was seized on by Sow. Advancing on Jamieson from the edge of the box, the big striker sidefooted strongly home to all but end any lingering hopes the visiting team may have had of mounting a revival.
Livingston might have secured a foothold in the contest five minutes into the second half when Burton O’Brien steered a free kick narrowly wide, and after an hour Mark Burchill was off target with a clearer chance. But, while Hearts lacked some of the precision which had served them so well in the first, they still threatened to overrun Jamieson.
Morgaro Gomis hit the crossbar from 25 yards, then substitute Dale Carrick shot over from a Sow pass before Jamieson pulled off a string of first-class saves from Carrick, Billy King and Keatings.
Eventually, though, the keeper had to concede defeat, losing two goals in the dying minutes. Keatings made it four when King and Carrick combined to set up an easy chance, and then Sow got his second by volleying in a Callum Paterson cross from the right.
“Hearts dominated from start to finish and we didn’t get going,” Livingston manager John McGlynn said. “They won’t get an easier game all season.” If by any chance they do, you can be sure that Neilson will demand an even more unforgiving display.
Hearts: Alexander, Wilson, Paterson, McHattie, Ozturk, Nicholson (King 63), Buaben, Gomis, Walker (Carrick 62), Sow, El Hassnaoui (Keatings 76)
Livingston: Jamieson, Fordyce, Talbot (Robertson 31), Sives, Jacobs, Glen, White, Jacobs, Hippolyte (Mullen 61), O’Brien, Burchill (McKenna 62)