THE title race is over, but the pursuit of excellence continues for Hearts. Saturday’s comfortable victory embodied many of the virtues that have assured the Edinburgh club of automatic promotion from the Championship, and once more highlighted the unrelenting approach that has brought Robbie Neilson such success in his first season in charge of the team.
After an early goal by Osman Sow settled any nerves, Hearts cruised through the rest of the first half, allowing Queen of the South a lot of possession without ever looking too troubled.
But such superiority was not enough for Neilson, who explained after the match that he had been dissatisfied with the spot of self-indulgence that had crept into his team’s play.
“I was a bit disappointed with the first half,” he said. “We lost our discipline. Our whole season has been built on keeping our shape and discipline, but we became a wee bit individualistic. Everyone was trying to do their own thing.
“We spoke about it at half-time. It was a wee bit better in the second half.
“It can be difficult on days like these. With the atmosphere and the build-up, everyone wants to be the guy that scores the goal or makes the killer pass.
“Today was about winning, first and foremost, because it keeps the momentum going.
“We started the game really well, but if we had got beat, it would have been flat. We did our job.”
They have done that job since day one, and Sow’s opener was reminiscent of his winning goal at Ibrox in the first game of the season. Collecting a pass from Billy King after Callum Paterson had won possession on halfway, the big Swede spun round to give himself space on the left edge of the box, then drilled home a low diagonal shot into the far corner.
Sow hit the sidenetting soon afterwards as Hearts tried to press home their advantage, and then was denied at point-blank range when Zander Clark stuck out a hand to block his flick from a Jamie Walker cross. Queens’ best chance of the first half came when Alim Ozturk headed narrowly past his own post and, early in the second, they looked certain to equalise when Neil Alexander could only block a Mark Miller free kick. Derek Lyle rushed in and blasted over the bar, then was thankful to realise the offside flag meant his effort would not have counted anyway,
Ozturk wrapped up the points midway through the second half with a free kick that found the corner of Clark’s net thanks to a big deflection, and after that Queens could do little but go through the motions.
Morgaro Gomis and Miguel Pallardo were once again outstanding for the champions in midfield, carrying out nearly everything asked of them with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency. Jamie Walker, arguably just ahead of those two as the club’s player of the season, was a threat whenever he got the ball close to the Queens box. But above all, those instances of selfishness excepted, this was another highly competent team performance by Hearts, who went on a lap of honour at the end. The only thing missing was the trophy, to be awarded to them on the last day of the season when they are at home to Rangers.
For fourth-placed Queens, the impact of this defeat was softened by Falkirk’s surprise loss at Dumbarton. James Fowler’s team are still a point clear of their rivals, whom they meet at Palmerston Park in a fortnight.
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