THESE sorts of days are beginning to feel like a formality at Tynecastle, where the fans have come to expect their team to deliver and perhaps, whether they admit it even to themselves, the opposition have, too.
Scorers: Hearts - Keatings (16), Paterson (29)
While the size of the club is no inhibitor to this Alloa team, who have humbled Rangers and Hibs already this season, the ability of Robbie Neilson’s men to maintain their unbeaten run so far into the Championship season is becoming more of a mental hurdle for the sides below them.
Alloa Athletic manager Barry Smith said he had pride in his players’ determination not to cave in after the home team took the lead. Citing Hearts’ home advantage, he stated it was not an easy place to come. Smith would never say it, of course, but it was almost like his side were happy to settle for something that added up to a defeat, but fell short of a hammering.
“Alloa are playing against Hibs and Hearts and that’s a dream for supporters and the expectation isn’t on Alloa there. We are a part-time club,” said Smith. “We still come to these places and believe we can win games but when you come up against a side at the top of the league, playing as well as Hearts are, it’s very difficult.
“We are never happy getting beat, but Hearts are top of the league for a reason. They did extremely well in the first half, but credit should go to my boys for competing as well as they did in the second half because it’s easy to crumble at a place like Tynecastle where the crowd are down on top of you.”
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
That reputation has been hard-earned, though, by Hearts, who remain unbeaten in the league and have now racked up an impressive nine wins out of nine on their own patch. While others have come to expect, they are taking nothing for granted, still cramming in the training sessions and doing their homework on the opposition.
“We changed our style of play a wee bit and decided to sit off the game a wee bit to see if we could get Alloa to come out because I have watched a few of their games and they defend really well,” said Neilson. “They did that against Hibs last week. They sat in and made things really difficult, so we decided to give up possession in their half. That made them come out and we worked that really well in the first half. There’s still work to do. But it’s important we have different ways of winning games and I thought we showed we can do that.”
It was a comfortable win and although both goals came in the first half, Hearts could have added more. Yet, while the chances came and went, the Gorgie side’s grip on the game did not relax, with Miguel Pallardo casting aside the controversy of the match-fixing allegations in his homeland to turn in another composed performance in the heart of the park alongside Prince Buaben who extended his contract earlier this week.
Both were involved in the first goal after 16 minutes, the latter winning possession and the former combining with James Keatings, who calmly slotted past the Alloa goalkeeper, Craig McDowall.
Alloa did have a couple of attempts which might have seen them emerge as more than just an irritant, but they were denied by the post and solid defending, and, once Callum Paterson nicked in at the front post to finish a Jamie Walker cut-back just before the half-hour, there was never going to be any surprise comeback.
Hearts maintained their nine- point lead at the top of the table courtesy of their ninth win out of nine at home in the league.
“Yeah, I’m delighted but those games are gone now. We have another nine coming up and we have to make sure we win those as well,” said Neilson whose focus has already switched to Tuesday’s rearranged match away to Cowdenbeath.
While there is a sense of formality about Hearts’ ongoing success, no one at the club is assuming anything is a foregone conclusion.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley, Walker (Nicholson 65) Robinson (Holt 65), Buaben, Pallardo, King, Keatings (Oliver 84). Subs not used: Hamilton, McKay, Buchanan, McGhee.
Alloa: McDowell, Doyle, Gordon, Benedictus, Meggatt (Cawley, 53), McCord, Simmons, Docherty, Holmes, Spence (Ferns 88), Buchanan. Subs not used: Couser, Hetherington, Marr, Tiffoney.
Referee: C Allan. Attendance: 15,224
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS