Hearts moved above Hamilton and up to seventh place in the Premiership with the first victory of manager Craig Levein’s second reign. It was a hard-fought affair, though, as his side spent the final two-thirds of the game on the back foot.
Cruising into a two-goal lead, Hearts looked good to go on and make a significant dent in their goal difference but they lost all of their momentum once Hamilton pulled one back and ended up holding on to the three points by their fingertips.
It was the type of performance one has come to expect from Levein’s sides, with a well-drilled defence and an industrious midfield perfectly constructed to protect the early lead they established.
“It was good to see them digging in,” he said afterwards. “I would have preferred to get a third goal to take the pressure off but I was disappointed last week only to take a point against Aberdeen and I’m thrilled with the points total here.
“We brought almost 2,000 fans with us and they were brilliant – they understood the nature of the game, they saw it was a fight and they stuck with us.”
Hearts began the match so impressively that supporters were still making their way to their seats when they fashioned a quite superb opening goal.
Jamie Walker was the architect; collecting the ball on halfway, he nutmegged Darian MacKinnon and then drove forward before supplying the overlapping Michael Smith on the right flank.
The midfielder’s driven cross was just begging to be put away and Ross Callachan, making his second start since being signed from Raith Rovers on the final day of the transfer window, opened his account when he forced the ball home from point-blank range.
Hamilton ought to have restored parity 15 minutes later when playmaker Ali Crawford sprung Hearts’ offside trap and released Rakish Bingham.
The striker was left with only Jon McLaughlin to beat but took his eye off the ball and, as he attempted to get it out from under his feet, succeeded only in stabbing it hopelessly wide from 12 yards.
At the other end, Callachan should have squared the ball for the unmarked Smith but opted to go for glory and Gary Woods comfortably held his angled drive.
However, there was little the goalkeeper could do when the visitors doubled their lead midway through the first half.
Esmael Goncalves was clearly aiming to draw a foul as he burst into Accies’ 18-yard box and full-back Giannis Skondras duly obliged. It was a soft award but Kyle Lafferty was unconcerned as he beat Woods low to his right.
“If that’s in the middle of the park and two players come together, with one of them putting their body in front of the ball, I don’t think the referee would give a foul,” moaned home manager Martin Canning.
Even with three-quarters of the match remaining, Hearts looked home and dry but a lack of concentration allowed the hosts to find a foothold in the contest.
Rafal Grzelak was guilty of ball-watching when he allowed former Hearts winger David Templeton to steal the ball away from him inside the penalty area.
The latter hit the by-line, drove the ball across the face of the goal and Bingham popped up at the far post to supply the finishing touch.
Galvanised by that, Crawford saw a netbound shot deflected behind for a corner as Hamilton pressed for an equaliser.
Levein replaced the under-performing Arnaud Djoum with Prince Buaben at the interval, after which Templeton appealed in vain for a penalty when he went down under pressure from Callachan.
John Souttar took one for the team when he was cautioned for bringing down substitute Scott Boyd as he was about to burst into the 18-yard box. Even so, it required a superb save from McLaughlin to claw the resulting free-kick from Crawford out from underneath his crossbar.
Crawford then had his name taken for a cynical foul on Walker while Woods comfortably saved the midfielder’s attempt at goal.
Hearts’ second-half display was lacking in ambition as they set out to hold what they had. Lafferty dragged a shot wide following a swift counter-attack but that was a rare moment of relief for the Irishman’s defensive colleagues.
“I’m bitterly disappointed that we’ve given a team I thought we were better than a two-goal start,” said Canning.