Big moment for Finlay Pollock as Hearts clinch Premier Sports Cup last-16 berth
Goals from Liam Boyce and Finlay Pollock secured the victory for the Tynecastle outfit, who now lead Group A by four points, rendering Sunday’s last pool match at home to Inverness largely redundant, although they will want to finish the section with an 100 per cent record.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson named a strong team for this encounter, opting for a 3-4-3. Craig Gordon took his place in goal, with Peter Haring and Andy Halliday anchoring the midfield and a front three of Josh Ginnelly, Boyce and Gary Mackay-Steven tasked with leading the line on a sun-kissed night.
It was, however, the hosts who had the first chance of the match. Dylan Bikey, who had a short-lived spell at Tynecastle in 2017, drove into the Hearts penalty box after picking up on a slack Halliday pass and while his effort was well-struck, it was straight at Gordon and the Hearts captain saved comfortably.
Soon after, Sean Heaver looked lively on the counter for Stirling, forcing a corner kick which came to little.
Hearts took this as an early wake-up call though and imposed themselves on the match, forcing a flurry of corners after Ginnelly and Mackay-Steven had switched flanks. Peter Haring thought he’d found the net, only for his header to be deflected wide of a grateful Blair Currie’s post.
By the 15-minute mark, Hearts were camped in the Stirling half, trying to find a way through a bank of red-and-white shirts. Michael Smith nearly found Boyce with a cross, while Stephen Kingsley sent an effort from 30 yards high over Currie’s crossbar.
Hearts’ patience paid off just after the 30-minute mark. Boyce will be a key player for the Jambos now that they are back in the top flight and it was his link-up play with Mackay-Steven that provided the magic. Boyce took the ball in, found Mackay Steven on the right, who in turn cutely back-heeled the ball back into the path of the Northern Irishman. The striker strode in on goal and finished coolly to open the scoring.
Hearts clearly wanted a second goal before the break. Mackay-Steven hit the side-netting and then Smith had an shot turned round the post by Currie. Boyce was next to go close, but his effort was blocked on the line by a Stirling defender and the Binos went in just a goal behind at the break. Hearts had been decent, but not spectacular.
Stirling so nearly equalised seconds into the next 45 minutes, but ex-Hearts kid Dale Carrick was thwarted by a last-gasp tackle by Craig Halkett.
Bar that early effort, the next 15 minutes of the match passed without incident as Hearts controlled proceedings without looking especially threatening.
Hearts brought on Armand Gnanduilliet in an attempt to score a second goal and put the game out of sight, and he nearly did so on 72 minutes as he and John Souttar just could not force the ball over the line.
However, they only had to wait a further minute for the all-important clincher and it came via teenager Pollock, coming off the bench and within five minutes slotting home to seal the win.