Sackful of positives for Hearts as Alloa win brings plenty rewards

Hearts left Clackmannanshire armed with positives after beating Alloa on a potentially-pivotal afternoon.

Hearts stretched further ahead of the rest at the top of the Championship after beating Alloa.

The Scottish Championship title race has a clear front-runner with a seven-point gap separating the Edinburgh club and nearest rivals Dunfermline.

The Fifers’ draw at Morton on Friday night combined with Saturday’s Dundee-Ayr postponement set the scene for league-leaders Hearts to stretch their advantage.

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They didn’t waste the opportunity. Sub-plots on the day included Gary Mackay-Steven’s debut, Josh Ginnelly’s goalscoring return from injury, plus another superb goal and impressive performance from Andy Irving.

It was Irving’s 20-yarder which opened the scoring before Elliott Frear doubled Hearts’ lead near half-time. Kevin Cawley reduced the deficit for ten-man Alloa following Lucas Williamson’s second caution for fouling Mackay-Steven.

Ginnelly secured victory with a late breakaway goal. He and fellow substitutes Liam Boyce and Mackay-Steven formed a three-man forward line in the second half and tore Alloa apart several times. The only issue was finishing.

For Dunfermline or Dundee to catch Hearts they must reach the same level of momentum. All three above-named attackers will get fitter over the coming weeks, with Irving already improving behind them in midfield.

“I need to work on everything really,” said the Riccarton academy graduate. “I'm only 20 so I've got a lot to learn and get better at. Physicality is definitely one of them.

“The guys that we have, Mikey [Williams] and Bob [McCunn] helping us in the gym is great for the younger players because physicality is such a big part of the game now.”

He is also adding goals with a growing penchant for the spectacular. “Aye. That's something in the past that I maybe haven't done enough of is shooting. I had the chance today and thankfully it went in,” he said.

“The run of games that I've had from Morton onwards has helped me. Every game I think I've improved at things but also maybe made mistakes in other positions where I need to make improvements. The more I play, the more I feel I'll get better.”

There are still 16 fixtures remaining and Championship clubs have made clear their desire to continue the campaign to the Scottish FA, so automatic promotion is very much still there to be won.

Every division below is suspended until at least February 1 but the second tier teams want to complete their season on the pitch.

Alloa's concerns lie at the other end of the table. They are just two points better off than bottom side Arbroath, who have a game in hand.

Ray Grant, son of the Alloa manager Peter, explained that he and his team-mates can’t afford to worry about Hearts or any business in the Championship’s top half.

“Obviously my biggest concentration is Alloa. We aren’t looking at any other teams. That’s for Hearts to worry about,” he said. “It is an expensive squad that has been assembled but no game of football is ever easy. We just have to focus on ourselves and look to pick up results.

“We aren’t interested in who gets dragged into what. If we don’t win games of football it won’t be good for us. We know what we have to do and we know what we are capable of doing. We need to start doing it.”

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