Hearts get back to winning ways with early blitz of Alloa

Hearts overwhelmed Alloa Athletic with an intense display and some clinical finishing to move within a point of the Championship summit.
Hearts midfielder Peter Haring celebrates his goal with Jamie Walker and Steven Naismith.Hearts midfielder Peter Haring celebrates his goal with Jamie Walker and Steven Naismith.
Hearts midfielder Peter Haring celebrates his goal with Jamie Walker and Steven Naismith.

It was precisely the type of response manager Robbie Neilson wanted after last Friday’s defeat at Dunfermline. The hosts were 3-0 ahead by half-time at Tynecastle Park, making light of monsoon-like conditions on a night which could have been far less straightforward.

Michael Smith and Andy Halliday both scored their second goals of the season, while Peter Haring rippled netting for the first time since April 2019.

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Liam Boyce failed to convert two penalties in the second half but by then the final result was not in doubt. Part-time Alloa offered little attacking threat despite plenty endeavour.

Score to settle

There was motivation galore for Hearts after losing their 100 per cent record at East End Park. For Alloa, bottom of the Championship with only one point, this was the proverbial free hit at the big boys.

These teams meet again in Clackmannanshire on Saturday with a Betfred Cup quarter-final place at stake. The victor in this match would therefore carry a useful psychological advantage into that tie.

Tynecastle on a midweek night under the floodlights is synonymous with a crackling atmosphere and deafening noise. Sadly, Covid regulations mean that is very much on hold for the foreseeable future.

There are hopes of more supporters being allowed into Scottish stadiums in line with the gradual return of fans in England. However, the Scottish Government are reluctant to follow that approach in areas where the virus remains prevalent.

A fast start

Accurate transmission of the ball was the priority as rain tipped from the heavens above Gorgie, demonstrated when Hearts scored inside six minutes. Halliday’s clipped cross from the left was stroked home by fellow full-back Smith at the back post.

The second goal on 24 minutes was an even better example of crisp passing. Steven Naismith fed Boyce 25 yards from goal and the Northern Irishman spun to thread a precise through pass to match Halliday’s incisive run. He flicked a one-touch finish low beyond the Alloa goalkeeper Neil Parry.

The visitors’ downfall was ceding possession deep in their own half. It was therefore no surprise when Haring drove home a third from Jamie Walker’s cutback eight minutes before the interval.

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Alloa’s first proper attempt on target came on 50 minutes and did not trouble Craig Gordon in the Hearts goal. There was little change in the flow of play towards Parry and the notion that the game was already won was hard to dismiss.

Penalty drama

Halliday became Boyce’s provider midway through the second period with a through ball, and the striker was brought down by Liam Dick for a penalty. Boyce stepped up to the spot but Parry saved low to his left.

Referee Grant Irvine ordered a re-take for encroaching by the goalkeeper, and this time Boyce’s effort skimmed the top of the crossbar on its way into the Gorgie Road Stand.

If that was a disappointing way to finish, those in maroon took consolation from the fact their work was already done.

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; M Smith (Popescu 65), Halkett, Berra, Kingsley; Haring, Halliday (Lee 71); Walker, Naismith, Roberts (White 57); Boyce.

Alloa (4-2-3-1): Parry; Robertson, Graham, Taggart, Dick; Grant, Hetherington; Cawley (Scougall 71), Trouten, Murray (Connolly 81); Thomson (Buchanan 46).

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