Hearts manager Craig Levein was left fuming at his misfiring players after they succumbed to a defensively adroit Kilmarnock side and warned those involved that it may have cost them their place in the team as he prepares to welcome back some key players.
Experienced frontman Steven MacLean can understand why. “We’ve got to take responsibility for it,” he said. “We have shown we can do it in the Hibs and Aberdeen games. There’s no point doing it in dribs and drabs. We need to do it more consistently. There’s going to be players coming back from injury and players will be left out so it’s up to the players who have the shirt right now to do it.”
After three tough games in quick succession, the veteran striker was offered some respite and started on the bench. With Uche Ikpeazu sitting in the stand nursing a tight hamstring, it was up to Japanese loan star Ryotaro Meshino to lead the line.
A role he has performed in the past, MacLean said there should have been no issues, with Jake Mulraney and Sean Clare charged with helping in that department.
But the home side looked blunt as too many players under-performed and it took a half-time reshuffle, when the team was already a goal down, to force some decent efforts.
“We worked on stuff on Thursday and Friday and we knew what we had to do. We just did not do it well enough. The manager picked a team to win the game but the players did not deliver in the first half,” said the former St Johnstone striker, pictured inset, who was sent on at the start of the second half and had the ball in the net. But his effort was chalked off after the referee adjudged Clevid Dikamona had fouled in the build-up.
The defender had a chance himself at the back post, as did Northern Irishman Michael Smith, but, having grabbed that 41st-minute advantage when Chris Burke was allowed to rise above Mulraney to all-too-easily head home, Killie proved why they have been racking up clean sheets.
This was to be their seventh of the season and the rise up the league proved how things can quickly acquire a sheen.
Kilmarnock boss Angelo Alessio arrived at the club with big shoes to fill and found himself under real pressure early in the season, with players and fans unsure about the new gameplans but, having built a strong defensive foundation, they have used that platform to start picking up points and winning over doubters.
Now into the top six, there is greater unity, according to defender Stuart Findlay.
“The breakthrough has been there for a few weeks. We beat St Johnstone for the first league win then we beat Hibs at home. We hadn’t had a win in the league since but we had some really good performances,” said the man who will now join up with former boss Steve Clarke in his Scotland squad.
“As soon as we went 1-0 up, I think because of the way we had been defending recently as a unit, we were confident we could keep a clean sheet.”
Having pressed hard and in packs and used their defensive prowess to see out the game rather than try to kill it off with more bite at the other end of the pitch, they know they are a work in progress, with more flair something to work on. But, if it ain’t broke, they are not minded to tinker too much.
“We obviously want to add more goals, but as long as you begin with that defensive base, it’s a good way to start.”