Isma Goncalves of Hearts makes it a bad hair day for Killie

Kilmarnocks Gordon Greer  challenges Kyle Lafferty of Hearts at Rugby Park on Saturday. Picture: SNS.
Kilmarnocks Gordon Greer challenges Kyle Lafferty of Hearts at Rugby Park on Saturday. Picture: SNS.
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In the metaphorical sense it is Hearts fans who have been pulling their hair out in recent months, frustrated by the end to last season and fearful of more of the same as this one got off to a difficult start.

But, on Saturday, it was a vexed home side who allowed themselves to become exasperated and it led to one of the most bizarre dismissals in top-flight football as Kirk Broadfoot was sent off for having a playground-style yank at a bemused Isma Goncalves’ top knot as the pair continued their tussle for superiority.

It led to both men being sent packing – the striker retaliating with a flailing arm as he sought to free his bundled up barnet – but the nature of the initial offence meant it was the defender who earned a red face to go with the red card.

By that stage the capital side were already a goal up and, with both sides going to ten men, the incident did little to alter the pattern of play.

Under the command of interim coach Jon Daly, Hearts had headed to Rugby Park intent on ending their troubling run of league games without a win, which stretched back to early April, and also addressing their paucity of victories at the Ayrshire ground. Without a league win there since 2013, they made a brisk start to the match and it was Goncalves who inflicted the damage on their hosts.

Restricted to a substitute appearance last weekend, with many questioning his work ethic, he responded with a late goal at Celtic Park and, reinstated to the starting line-up against Kilmarnock, he latched on to a through ball in the fifth minute, bursting between the centre-back pairing of Broadfoot and Gordon Greer before bettering Jamie MacDonald in the home goal with a clinical strike.

“We had some decent chances to finish the game off,” said Liverpool loanee Connor Randall, who made his starting debut, “but we knew what to expect. We were delighted with the three points. We ground it out. It’s been a tough time. We were due a win and a good result for the fans.Hopefully we can push on now.”

It was a bit of relief for the sizeable travelling support and a boost for Daly, who has made it clear he is enjoying his spell at the helm and would love the job on a permanent basis.

That looks unlikely this time around with the club’s hierarchy bruised by the failure of their previous appointment and keen to bring in a more experienced manager to push forward. But the win at Kilmarnock will have registered and if he was to follow it up with a positive response at Rangers at the weekend, he will imbue the club with some confidence that they can revert back to their intended route of promoting from within the next time there is a vacancy.

It was Lee McCulloch in the opposing dugout who was the one under fire on Saturday. A return of just four home wins last term and back-to-back home defeats in the opening two games of this Premiership campaign has tested the patience of some punters.

But while there was no end product on Saturday, the Killie manager does believe there were enough signs of encouragement in the build-up play. In Dom Thomas they had a source of creativity and drive and he ensured young Jamie Brandon had a difficult afternoon, but while they huffed and puffed and enjoyed their fair share of possession, the Rugby Park side never really looked likely to grab an equaliser let alone find it within themselves to overhaul that early deficit, not when the final ball was lacking and no-one in the team seemed willing or able to gamble on balls into the area.

Hearts, too, struggled to finish off moves. They should have made things more comfortable for themselves but while they carved out openings, with co-ordinated moves forward in the opening stages and then on the counter as Kilmarnock chased things later on, they could not capitalise.

Kyle Lafferty and Don Cowie will both have headed home aware that they had wonderful openings. The Northern Irishman’s was gilt-edged.

Responding positively after Rory McKenzie had forced a double save from Jack Hamilton in the 60th minute, with two close-range efforts, Hearts had broken swiftly through Arnaud Djoum and his pressing forced a hasty clearance from MacDonald that was sent straight back upfield to Cowie, who zipped a low cross into a central area where Djoum, Goncalves and Lafferty were all waiting, But instead of firing it into the net, it got caught up under the feet of summer signing Lafferty and the moment was lost.

Cowie also had a perfect chance but with minutes of the match remaining he skied his angled drive high over the bar.

It meant that Hearts had to endure a more anxious end to the contest than they might have liked but, looking more organised than of late and playing with more cohesion and belief, they saw the job through.

And while the managerial issue still needs resolved and they will have to wait for their much-anticipated return to Tynecastle, Hearts fans were finally able to let their hair down and celebrate a 
Premiership victory.