A game that heated up right at the end provided Hearts with the cold comfort of a point. Kyle Lafferty saw his penalty saved by former Tynecastle goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald in time added on.
But while some Hearts fans jeered at the final whistle they might reflect on the draw as well earned. MacDonald helped win his side a point but so did Jon McLaughlin, whose save from Jordan Jones’ header, just moments before Lafferty’s spot-kick, prevented Killie going in front. New Scotland manager Alex McLeish, watching from the main stand, can only have been impressed with McLaughlin, who made several other good stops.
On a testing night in terms of conditions both sides should be content with a point despite the late drama providing them both with a glimpse of victory.
Steven Naismith scored his first Hearts goal against his former club on a night that was as fiercely contested as expected. Both Craig Levein and Steve Clarke are enjoying a new lease of life in the dug-out and they clearly relished this tactical joust.
Levein’s plans looked to have gone awry as early as the third minute when Eamonn Brophy capitalised on uncharacteristic hesitancy in the Hearts defence to open the scoring.
McLeish might have come to admire Hearts’ defensive qualities but left pondering if Kirk Broadfoot could be worth an international recall. As unrefined as he sometimes is, the 33-year-old centre-half was instrumental in a fine Killie performance.
McLeish had barely settled in his seat before Hearts gifted the opener to the visitors. Brophy, pictured, slid a shot past McLaughlin after he had latched on to an attempted headed clearance from Christophe Berra. It was not what was expected of a defence that has yielded so little in the way of goals of late, particularly at home. In fact, only Motherwell have managed to breach the Gorgie Iron Curtain at Tynecastle since the start of December. But Kilmarnock arrived bearing some serious credentials. It was their 2-1 win at Murrayfield in November that helped get Clarke’s side up and running. They have barely looked back. But they were frustrated in their aim to leapfrog Hearts last night despite taking such an early lead.
It was an especially frustrating evening for John Souttar, who was robbed of the chance to impress McLeish by a tight hamstring. The home side seemed to miss him early on. Youssouf Mulumbu’s through ball seemed to catch Berra unaware and his header lacked conviction. Brophy then strong-armed the defender off the ball before slipping the ball under McLaughlin, who might also have done better.
If it was a mistake on the goalkeeper’s part as well, he fully made up for it. His flying stop from Brophy’s powerful drive prevented Hearts from going 2-0 down.
But the tide was turning in Hearts’ favour even before Naismith equalised after 27 minutes – a Lafferty shot was well held by Jamie MacDonald.
Hearts’ goal seemed to spring from very little. Demetri Mitchell’s angled cross caught the Killie backline out and Naismith was left unmarked to nod his first goal for the club over the line. The hosts so nearly went in at the interval in front. But Greg Taylor, another who may well be interesting McLeish, was alert enough to hook off the line Lafferty’s gentle lob over MacDonald. He did so with the aid of the far post. But it was still commendable play from the young left-back.
Hearts sought to make in-roads after the interval but were thwarted by a Killie backline that now featured Stuart Findlay, who came on for Greer four minutes into the half. Clarke replaced goalscorer Brophy with Lee Erwin shortly afterwards.
While Hearts looked to be gaining the upper-hand towards the end of the opening half it was the visitors who started to re-assert themselves in the second, cheered on by a sizeable away following.
Erwin should have put Kilmarnock ahead again with six minutes left when he met Stephen O’Donnell’s cross. His header was hit firmly but too straight and McLaughlin was relieved to clutch the ball to his chest. The goalkeeper made a more acrobatic and eye-catching stop to keep Jones’ downward header out in the dying moments. But it was still not the final act, nor the last goalkeeper heroics. Lafferty was up-ended by Mulumbu in the final minute. The striker picked himself up and hit the penalty to MacDonald’s left, but not sufficiently far away to stop the keeper gathering.