HAD Robbie Nielson accused the referee in this game of incompetence then surely no-one at the SFA could have objected. This wasn’t just a case of over-officiousness on the part of John Beaton, a fair chunk of his decisions were more baffling than that.
But, perhaps, mindful of the suspended two match ban hanging over him and unwilling to take his chances at another judicial hearing or maybe just reluctant to give his players an escape clause, the Hearts manager chose to focus on his team’s deficiencies rather than the officials.
“The referee never missed six chances – we did. If we had scored one of them I’d be sitting here with three points and I’d be delighted. It was nothing to do with him, it was about us and our performance in front of goal.
“I thought we should have been 4-0 or 5-0 up at half-time. We had five or six clear-cut chances and if you don’t score them then you’re always going to be under pressure.
“We keep thinking another one will come when we miss them but they don’t always come. You have to make sure you take the chance.
“Nicholson should score, Sow should score. There’s always an edge when the game gets towards the end and they [Kilmarnock] put a ball in. They got a free kick outside the box, we clear it and it falls to someone and they score a goal. The lesson is we need to be more ruthless when we get chances.”
Even in a first half peppered with stoppages, some fair, some the product of pure fantasy, when Hearts were able to rise above the nonsense and frustration, they pieced together some technically tidy and aesthetically pleasing play. They just didn’t have the clinical finish. They seemed to think it would somehow materialise if they kept pressing, Kilmarnock appeared to fear the same, which is why they were so intent on upsetting the rhythm.
With the assistance of the officials, it proved a pretty useful tactic and helped take the sting out of things. But there was a spirit in Gary Locke’s team, epitomised by former Hearts player Kevin McHattie, who got across to block a Sam Nicholson shot in the 24th minute which looked certain to break the deadlock.
In the 11th minute the Hearts winger had also forced a save from Jamie MacDonald with a rising angled drive. Jamie Walker delivered two corners in succession and Conrad Balatoni cleared the danger at the first, Josh Magennis tried to do likewise with the second and when it was played back into the area by Nicholson Juanma shot through the crowded box but his effort was blocked.
The goal came in the 38th minute when Osman Sow, who had invited the close attentions of several opponents with fancy footwork and a physical presence, was barged over by Balatoni as he charged into the box. From the resultant penalty, Walker fired high into the net to give the home side the lead they deserved. But there was frustration at the way they passed up further chances and at the way Beaton seemed intent on becoming the centre of attention.
A few times things threatened to boil over but instead the match grew into a contest of two teams going at each other, one with the greater possession but blunted end product and the other with heart and a desire to make up for the recent cup defeat.
Kilmarnock came close when Blazej Augustyn had to leap across a gaping goal to deny Greg Kiltie but they eventually found the net with about 10 minutes left when Balatoni atoned for his earlier misdemeanour and levelled the scoring with a low drive from the edge of the box.
It was a blow to Hearts who must have felt it was two points dropped but a well-earned point from the guests. For the Gorgie side things got worse as the clock clicked down. Substitute Gavin Reilly reacted recklessly when the officials failed to spot a tugging of his shirt and kicked out.
“At the time I wasn’t sure but if he has kicked out it’s a red card,” said Neilson, accepting one of the few decisions the referee got right.
“We just need to accept it. He shouldn’t kick out. He’ll be suspended for two games now so it’s a learning curve for him.”