Hearts are now on brink of title after routing hapless Alloa at Tynecastle

Clinical Hearts striker Liam Boyce put Alloa to the sword.Clinical Hearts striker Liam Boyce put Alloa to the sword.
Clinical Hearts striker Liam Boyce put Alloa to the sword.
Hearts have stumbled along the path towards the Championship crown in recent weeks, but they perhaps took the final step at Tynecastle Park on Friday night.

On the back of a shock Scottish Cup defeat by Brora Rangers, a league loss to Queen of the South and then a draw at Dunfermline, Robbie Neilson’s men needed a confidence-boosting, title-clinching victory. This 6-0 triumph over bottom-club Alloa – now perilously close to automatic relegation – definitely did the former and may well do the latter.

Hearts now must sit back and watch Saturday’s remaining league fixtures to see if their coronation will come then. If both Raith Rovers and Dundee fail to beat Arbroath and Morton respectively, then it is job done for Hearts.

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In reality, the job is done. Neither Raith or Dundee are going to catch the Jambos. There have been times this season where Hearts have shown deficiencies, but there have also been matches where they have blown the opposition away. Crushing wins over Dundee, Ayr, Queen of the South spring to mind. Add this one to the list too. Amid the grumbles, they are more than worthy champions.

Liam Boyce stole the headlines with a hat-trick. The Northern Ireland internationalist has been Hearts’ best player during the recent mediocre run and, paired with Armand Gnanduillet in attack, he ran amok. He now has 16 goals to his name this season and 20 must now be a realistic target with three matches remaining.

There was a return to the starting XI for John Souttar, who was making his first appearance in 405 days. Ravaged by injury after injury – the latest being another Achilles rupture – he strolled through proceedings, albeit against a fairly listless Alloa attack.

How it all unfolded

After a minute’s silence to mark Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh’s passing earlier in the day, the early stages were fairly even. However, Hearts’ class began to show and on 26 minutes, they made the breakthrough.

The goal was a lovely move, inspired by a cute pass from Andy Halliday to send Boyce through on goal. With the outside of his foot, he smashed the ball high beyond Parry.

Six minutes later, it was 2-0. Euan Henderson burst into the penalty box, Parry brought him down, referee Steven McLean pointed to the spot and Boyce sent the Alloa keeper the wrong way.

The Wasps came out for the second half eager to reduce arrears but their open nature was exposed by Hearts. Peter Haring set Henderson free on 51 minutes and his deft lob trundled into the net.

Two minutes later, Boyce completed his hat-trick. Aaron McEneff’s effort was saved by Parry, but the ball fell kindly for Boyce and he lashed it home.

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Then McEneff got in on the act, scoring his first goal for the club on 71 minutes.

Hearts’ final goal came two minutes from the end, sub Jamie Walker benefiting from Parry’s hesitancy with the ball at his feet, scoring into an empty net after Gnanduillet dispossessed the keeper.

All eyes on Raith and Dundee now. The wait is almost over.

Hearts: Gordon; Smith, Halkett, Souttar (Walker 84); S Logan, McEneff, Haring, Halliday; Henderson (Naismith 60), Boyce (Mackay-Steven 76), Gnanduillet.

Alloa: Parry; Robertson, Taggart, Graham, Dick, Williamson; Trouten (Scougall 61), Cawley, Hetherington, Grant; Cameron (Murray 54).