Hearts find answer to Livingston defiance as Kenneth Vargas first earns Steven Naismith much-needed win

Kenneth Vargas celebrates scoring his first Hearts goal to make it 1-0 over Livingston  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)Kenneth Vargas celebrates scoring his first Hearts goal to make it 1-0 over Livingston  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Kenneth Vargas celebrates scoring his first Hearts goal to make it 1-0 over Livingston (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
There is a very good reason why St Johnstone wanted David Martindale as their new boss and understandable reticence from Livingston to let him go.

This was a side under siege for most of this match but the organisation and discipline drilled into the West Lothian men by a manager who demands his players put their bodies on the line when necessary, meant that instead of staring down a walloping, Hearts’ visitors managed to keep them at bay for 79 minutes.

After the derby draws and their inability to claim even a point from the back to back tussles with the Old Firm, there was an expressed need to get back on the front foot as quickly as possible.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That was registered by Steven Naismith, who knows he has yet to win over some of the Tynecastle fanbase following a mixed start to the campaign, and the Gorgie gaffer set up his side to get the ball forward swiftly in a bid to bag an early goal and get the crowd onside.

And, with Alex Lowry back in the ranks, and the experienced Liam Boyce and Lawrence Shankland both starting, there were attacking options, with Alex Cochrane and Alan Forrest also pushing up on the flanks.

Shankland, who netted in the games against both Celtic and Rangers, had obviously been pinpointed as the biggest threat and he found himself closely shadowed throughout.

There were still efforts from Forrest early doors, as Hearts sought to shift the ball about in search of an opening. But finding a way through the sea of yellow shirts was like wading through thick custard and things needed to be quicker or more inventive.

Shankland’s shot after 15 minutes looked goal bound but was deflected behind by Michael Devlin, and five minutes later it was the crossbar that foiled him. It was to become the story of the match as frustration built in the stands, and in the home technical area.

But rather than panic, patience was to be a virtue as Hearts ended their run of three games without a win to move up into fourth in the Premiership.

Livingston did well to withstand the almost constant pressure for as long as they did as Hearts refused to let up, maintaining a presence well into their guest’s half and pushing the visitors, who had 10 men behind the ball for most of the match, deep, making it impossible for Shankland, Boyce, Forrest, Lowry and even the likes of Cammy Devlin and Frankie Kent to make the breakthrough.

There was the odd cautionary reminder from Martindale’s men on the break but the danger was few and far between as Hearts started the second half the same way they had performed throughout the first.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

With his players still knocking on the door without bursting in, Naismith made changes after the hour mark and it was to be the catalyst to collecting the three points as the pace and directness of Yutaro Oda and Kenneth Vargas caused some new questions.

It was the Costa Rican striker who finally found the net, burying a wonderful Jorge Grant ball across the face of Jack Hamilton’s box, to grab his first goal for the club and a very important victory for the capital side ahead of this weekend’s League Cup semi-final against Rangers.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.