In-form Hearts forward breaks his duck in remarkable style as ebullient fans chant 'bring on the Hibees' in latest win
Some could not quite believe their eyes as they squinted towards the Gorgie Road Stand and saw a diminutive figure wrap his right foot around a cross from Nathaniel Atkinson and send a curling volley soaring into the top corner.
Why bother scoring unless it’s an absolute peach? That seems to be Barrie McKay’s mantra and who’s to argue?
Make no mistake, this was worth the wait as he finally struck in the 58th minute of his 30th game for the club. There had even been a little frustration with McKay moments earlier after he decided to cross rather than make headway towards goal when the opportunity seemed there for him. Some grumbles were even audible.
Did the player himself even believe he would ever break his duck for the club? It wasn’t a huge issue. He has been doing what he is there to do and creating goals for others.
Indeed, his contribution was even celebrated in the match programme, where he was proclaimed February’s player of the month. In truth, this had been one of his less stellar performances. But then he found himself unmarked to the left of the box after good work from Ellis Simms to retrieve a ball that looked to be heading out. Atkinson crossed and McKay connected deliciously to secure the three points for Hearts. They can now clinch third place before the split.
There was some gloom on an otherwise perfect day in Gorgie in the form of injuries to Beni Baningime, who scored Hearts’ opener, and Andy Halliday.
The former looked most worrying. Robbie Neilson later confirmed it was the same knee that had kept him out for two months earlier this season. The manager said it was a case of “touch wood”.
With Hearts under no real pressure in the league, thoughts could turn to a certain upcoming pair of fixtures – with the accent surely on the second of them, the Scottish Cup semi-final on April 16 – as early as the third minute. That’s how long it took the home side to establish a lead that they rarely looked like relinquishing. “Bring on the Hibees!” chorused the home fans.
Neilson had tried his best to stress how important concentrating on the next challenge is. “For now, there’s nothing more important than today’s game…” he wrote in his programme notes in a valiant attempt to keep everyone focused. It is of course utterly futile.
Everything seems to exist in the shadow of the last four showdown at Hampden with the league fixture at Tynecastle seven days earlier performing the function of handy appetiser. It’s why concerned muttering could be heard when Baningime slumped to the turf for a second time shortly before half time following a challenge by Ayo Obileye.
He had earlier given Hearts the lead after the ball broke to him on the edge of the six-yard box with Livingston goalkeeper Max Stryjek entitled to wonder about cover. It was completely absent. As was the protection for away manager David Martindale’s head. The sun beat down mercilessly on the proceedings on the hottest day of the year so far and there were even drinks breaks for goodness’ sake.
Such a shred tactician, Martindale was unprepared for this eventuality. His bald head got redder and redder as his side’s efforts became ever more in vain.
A top-six slot is still in their own hands. All is not lost. Livingston were singed rather than burnt.