THE SCORELINE suggests that this encounter was another in an increasing list of games where Hearts blow by second tier opposition en route to an emphatic victory.
Queen of the South - 0
Hearts - 3
Sow 39; Buaben 42; McGhee 59
However, while the win was comfortable in the end, for long periods of the first half the visitors looked rattled by opponents who had already tasted Edinburgh blood this season and were on the hunt for more.
Queen of the South, buoyed by the win over Hibs two weeks ago, caused Hearts no end of problems throughout the first 35 minutes, missing a couple of great chances and seeing their opponents take the lead through what they believed to be a contentious opening goal.
From there, however, the undoubted quality in Hearts shone through as they grabbed a quick-fire second and could have won by an even greater margin after the points were secured 15 minutes into the second half.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” admitted head coach Robbie Neilson after the game. “It’s probably one of the hardest venues to come to in the league. It has a cup-tie feel to it because of the environment and the full house that was here today.
“We rode our luck a little, but once we rode that storm we felt the game would open up a little, and thankfully it did.”
That bit of luck Neilson referred to was Andy Dowie’s free header from six yards following an Ian McShane corner from the right. The centre back’s effort came back off the post and dropped right into the grateful hands of Neil Alexander in the Hearts’ goal.
That chance, nine minutes in, wasn’t even the first the hosts created in the opening ten minutes. Taking advantage of Neilson’s pragmatic approach of favouring the more defensively sound McGhee and Adam Eckersley at full-back over the roving Callum Paterson and Kevin McHattie, Queens suffocated the Hearts front players who were denied their usual out-ball to the advancing defenders.
This relentless pressing helped release Gavin Reilly between the Hearts centre backs on seven minutes after Prince Buaben had been caught in possession, but the forward fired his shot wide of goal.
The inability to take those chances came back to haunt the hosts when Osman Sow produced that little piece of magic teams gunning for league titles are always capable of. The Swedish forward received a pass from Danny Wilson on the edge of the box, opted to shoot early and sent a ferocious effort which bounced over the line off the underside of the crossbar.
“I thought his finish was fantastic,” Neilson said of his striker’s goal. “It shows what can happen when we get the ball in to his feet. He’s got great pace and technique, and he’s certainly capable of producing something like that.”
There was a brief moment of hesitation in the away side’s celebrations as referee Brian Colvin communicated with his assistant before giving the goal. The decision outraged the home side, and their protestations were led by player-manager James Fowler.
“Our players don’t think it crossed the line,” revealed Fowler after the match.
“You’re always going to get those kind of protests when it’s so close, and the boy’s hit it from a distance. I think the assistant was level with our last defender at the time. I haven’t had a chance to look back at it. Fair enough, if he’s gotten it right then it’s a great decision.
“Up until they scored there was only one team in the game. I can’t really remember Hearts creating much of note.
“I was happy with how they performed, disappointed with the result.”
Queens allowed their sense of injustice to cloud their concentration as Hearts quickly doubled their lead. Prince Buaben strode on to a loose ball 20 yards from goal, took a touch into the area and flicked the ball past Zander Clark.
Any hope of the hosts getting something from the match disappeared on 59 minutes. McGhee started the move after initially dispossessing Iain Russell over by the touch-line before playing the ball inside to Soufian El Hassnaoui. The attacker could have returned the pass in to McGhee who’d continued his run, but chose instead to feed it out wide to Billy King. The winger’s cross from the left took a slight deflection on its way into the penalty area, dropping kindly for McGhee two yards from goal to side-foot into the back of the net.
“The gap [at the top of the Championship] is six points now but it’s about us winning the next game,” added Neilson. “We’ve got Alloa next week and we’ll be back in again tomorrow looking forward to the next game. We can’t worry about other teams’ results. We’ve got to just keep winning.”
Queen of the South: Clark, Kidd, Dowie, Higgins, Holt, McShane, Fowler (Kerr 56), Kilie (Dzierzawski 63), Lyle (Baird 67), Russell, Reilly.
Hearts: Alexander, McGhee, Eckersley, Wilson, Ozturk (Paterson 81), King, Gomis, Buaben (Pallardo 79), Walker, El Hassnaoui (Nicholson 63), Sow.
Referee: B Colvin. Attendance: 5,534.