Hearts played the numbers game to perfection on Saturday. A fourth consecutive 2-0 victory kept the Tynecastle side in third spot in the SPL on the back of a sequence of six clean-sheet wins in seven matches. However, in the end, it was all about the two Jims.
The match kicked off in a stadium charged with emotion following a minute's silence in honour of the legendary former Hearts goalkeeper, Jim Cruickshank, who died last week at the age of 69. Fittingly, the current Tynecastle custodian, Marian Kello, who tied a yellow goalie's jersey to his net to mark the sad passing, paid the ultimate tribute. A man-of-the-match performance was capped when the Slovak replicated Cruickshank's penalty prowess with a terrific spot-kick save to prevent Simon Mensing's hauling Hamilton right back into the match.
The other Jim, manager Jefferies, could think of no better way to acclaim his former team-mate of the 1970s. "Jim Cruickshank was a great penalty saver," he said. "How fitting is it that Marian comes out with the jersey and makes a fantastic save from a penalty on the day we paid our respects to him?"
Kello's stop ensured Hearts, who failed to hit the heights of some of their recent impressive displays, also gave Jefferies a timely reward ahead of his 60th birthday today. The manager insisted ahead of the game that all he wanted by way of a gift was another three points and his players duly delivered.
There was little in a first half in which Hamilton goalkeeper Tomas Cerny had stopped Rudi Skacel's drive on his line and Kello had turned Jim Goodwin's curling effort away from his top left-hand corner. But just after the half hour Skacel scored an audacious opener.
The Czech midfielder seized on a throw-in that had been allowed to bounce by Martin Canning and sent a sublime, dipping shot over the desperate dive of Cerny from 30 yards out on the left side of the box. "We were a wee bit flat in getting going, but then we looked for that wee bit of quality and Skacel provided it," said Jefferies.
Hearts effectively ensured it would be a satisfactory salute to the Jims when David Templeton attempted to upstage Skacel with another magnificent strike barely six minutes after the interval.
Hamilton were sloppy in clearing their lines after Kevin Kyle's off-target header had caused panic and Templeton curled a superb effort from distance into the roof of the net from outside the area.The young winger was, like Kyle, strangely subdued for much of the game but when he did burst to life his close control, speed and incisiveness was a joy to watch. However, as much as Skacel and Templeton were the match-winners because of their goals, Hearts' recent run, which makes them statistically the form team in the SPL, has been anchored on the rock of a resilient rearguard that has skipper Marius Zaliukas at its heart and Eggert Jonsson as a mean deputy down its right flank.
On this occasion, a fourth clean sheet was just reward for Kello, who before his penalty save had denied Damian Casalinuovo. The Slovakian cannot claim to be as well-versed in the remarkable service Cruickshank gave Hearts as those supporters who fell silent for a minute prior to kick-off, but that did not stop him from taking inspiration from his late predecessor. "It was an emotional afternoon for me," said Kello. "I was a bit mad at times during the game but I think it was just because of the situation. I felt a little bit of a connection with Jim and I really wanted to get a clean sheet for him."
As for Jefferies, the manager was as animated as ever as he returned to the dugout following a two-game touchline ban. Kello certainly does not expect the passing of another year to mellow his boss. "The way he shouts and the passion he shows is his personality and you cannot change yourself," he said. "You can change some things but not your heart."
For Accies, there must be some change as they remain at the foot of the SPL. Defensive lapses were to undo them yet again but an unseemly squabble involving substitute Flavio Paixao, who was brought down by Ruben Palazuelos, and Mensing did little to aid the latter's cause as he prepared to take a potentially pivotal spot-kick. "I think it's a joke," said Mensing after he missed his first-ever penalty. "He's been at the club long enough to know that I'm on penalties and it's not the first time he's tried it. It certainly didn't help."