His manager has described him as the heartbeat of the side, and once again Steven Naismith proved his worth to the team as he made Hearts tick and gave Hamilton palpitations.
Pulling the strings, he scored one and was integral in the build-up to the other as the capital team recorded only their second win in 11 matches. Barking orders, identifying space and anticipating passages of play, a couple of moves ahead of most, he had those around him playing with a smile on their faces and with growing confidence, while Martin Canning and his men skulked out of Tynecastle well aware that things could have been even worse if the home side had completely clicked.
The form of both teams had been identical over the past ten league games, with two wins and two draws dotted among the defeats. But while Hamilton are looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone, Hearts are a team casting their eyes up the table.
Minus Matt Kilgallon, Darian MacKinnon and James Keatings, the visitors had travelled east with some trepidation, and they were hampered further when Delphin Tshiembe went off injured within the first 10 minutes and Shaun Want was sent packing with 20 minutes to go after he stupidly tried to haul the evasive Naismith back and received a second yellow card.
Hearts manager Craig Levein had been relieved to see some flashes of his side’s early season form despite defeat to Aberdeen at the weekend but he was even happier yesterday with yet more evidence of that – and by the fact they were also able to get back to winning ways after back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Dons and Livingston. The dominant side throughout the first half, they relinquished a modicum of that superiority at times in the second period but were still able to ease their way to the final whistle without anxiety.
In the first half, the movement in Hearts’ forward areas was a source of consternation for the away defence as the intelligence of both Naismith and strike partner Steven MacLean opened up space as they looked for the early lead.
Hearts had also altered personnel. With Demi Mitchell out, Ben Garuccio came in, while Arnaud Djoum and Callumn Morrison were the preferred midfield options – and right from the off they tested their guests, with Olly Lee firing a half-volley in at Hamilton keeper Gary Woods in the opening minute.
The keeper was able to hold that one but he will have been grateful to see Naismith’s diving header zip the wrong side of the post after Morrison had whipped an inviting delivery into the danger area.
The biggest threat to Hearts’ goal in that first half came from their own slip-ups, with some slack passing along the back line and dangerous lay-offs for Craig Doyle, who was again preferred to Zdenek Zlamal in goal. One such backpass from Marcus Godinho saw the keeper blooter his attempted clearance off captain Christophe Berra from point-blank range, and both men were relieved to see the ricochet find the keeper rather than the net.
Lenny Sowah had to intervene at the other end when Djoum sent a delightful ball over the top for Naismith, who flicked it on for Morrison, but just as he shaped up to shoot, Hamilton’s substitute full-back managed to get a touch to clear the immediate danger.
The reprieve was short though, and by the 19th minute Hearts were ahead as Garuccio drove inside and picked out Naismith in a yard of space at the edge of the box. He calmly played the ball from one foot to the other before stroking a perfectly-placed effort past Woods and into back of the net for his 12th goal of the season.
MacLean should have doubled the lead in the 31st minute but after his strike-mate had played him in he sent his angled drive over the bar when he should have burst the net.
Hearts were in complete control, though, and that was better reflected in the scoreline when Djoum made it 2-0 just a couple of minutes from the break. Making the run across goal to gain possession, Naismith then pushed the ball out to Morrison, who crossed for Djoum at the back post and he drilled it past Woods.
For all Canning’s achievements in keeping Hamilton in the top flight in recent seasons, that second goal was enough to prompt calls for his dismissal from some of the 106-strong travelling support.
In the second half his men did respond and made more of a contest of things but they lacked any kind of bite in front of goal and Hearts remained the more likely to score.
Djoum, Michael Smith, substitute Sean Clare and Lee had further chances but couldn’t find the net despite Hearts pressing, especially after Want’s foolishness left them with a one-man advantage.
In the 77th minute the home side also had the chance to net from the spot after Ziggy Gordon was penalised for handball as he tried to fend off sub Jake Mulraney and usher the ball out for a goalkick but Smith’s effort came back off the underside of the bar.