THE new Alloa manager Danny Lennon started the match in the stand but so too did some of the Hearts players who have been instrumental in helping the Tynecastle side to the Championship title.
Scorers: Hearts - Paterson (43), Wilson (49), El Hassnaoui (69)
Their manager had said that he would use the remaining games to reward the patience of those who have served mainly as reinforcements this term and he stood by that, trusting the likes of Jack Hamilton, Brad McKay, Kenny Anderson and Soufian El Hassnaoui to get the home side back to winning ways after the weekend defeat by Rangers.
He had to exhibit some patience of his own in that regard as the re-jigged side took their time to get a grip on the game and express themselves against an outfit languishing more than 60 points adrift of them in the standings.
But the goals did come and they were courtesy of the vanguard, with Callum Paterson breaking the deadlock just before the interval and captain Danny Wilson backing that up with a second goal just minutes into the second half.
It was a quick one-two that wrapped up what had been almost inevitable. Defeats have been a rarity for the Gorgie side this term but back-to-back losses are unheard of and against a side who have won only once since early December, even a second string Hearts were unlikely to come unstuck.
The only real pressure applied by Alloa on the night was on their hosts’ derby rivals Hibs. Following the lead set by Queen of the South and Rangers, the Recreation Park side formed a guard of honour to welcome the champions on to the pitch, shining the spotlight on the Leith side who are next up, in the final capital head-to-head of the season, at Easter Road on Sunday.
It wasn’t a case of affording their opponents too much respect, though, as quality rather than mentality proved the major difference between the sides last night.
Alloa are locked in a battle to avoid finishing the campaign in a play-off place and they were no match for this Hearts side, even one which slipped well below the lofty standards they have set this season.
With so many swaps in personnel, Hearts took their time to find their rhythm and the kind of pace and fluency that have served them so well this term. They struggled to pick out the passes in their usual swift, sleek manner and too often their advance was halted by a wayward pass. But in the 28th minute they almost found a way through, but Sam Nicholson’s shot rattled back off the post. The winger had been in regular dialogue with Robbie Neilson on the touchline, signalling the manager wasn’t satisfied with things. But his men did eventually begin to click.
In the 33rd minute, Billy King displayed some neat footwork as he danced in from the byeline on the right and through a swarm of Wasps but with options to cut it back he chose to go for goal himself and sent his close-range effort over.
There was another conference on the touchline and this time it resulted in King and Nicholson switching flanks as Neilson tried to shake things up.
Hearts were applying more and more pressure and, with two minutes of the first half remaining, they backed that up with the necessary penetration as Paterson rifled a shot towards goal from outside the box. On target, the Alloa goalkeeper may have dealt with it but the unfortunate Kyle Benedictus stuck a leg out and only succeeded in taking the ball further away from Craig McDowall and gifting the home side the opener. That made the rest of the night a straightforward affair, with Alloa offering no hint of a comeback and Hearts looking more and more at ease.
A minute later, King flashed another pass across the face of goal but, despite his lunge, El Hassnaoui failed to connect by a matter of inches.
The second goal came just after the break, though, when Wilson headed home a James Keatings corner in the 49th minute and after that it was simply a case of whether Alloa would be able to avoid the kind of skelping Hearts have handed out time and time again.
They didn’t cave but they did concede a third. It came in the 69th minute when substitute Miguel Pallardo was denied a way through, but when the ball broke to El Hassnaoui on the edge of the area, the Dutch-Moroccan striker gave the scoreline the kind of shine Hearts’ dominance deserved.
Iain Flannigan tried to reduce the deficit but his drilled shot midway through the half went narrowly wide and his late free kick did the same.
Salt was then rubbed in the Alloa wounds when they were reduced to ten men in the 89th minute after Mark Docherty picked up his second booking.
Hearts: Hamilton, Paterson, McKay (McGhee 78), Wilson, Eckersley, Nicholson, Anderson, Gomis (Pallardo 67), King, El Hassnaoui, Keatings (Oliver 60). Subs not used: Alexander, McHattie, Walker, Sow.
Alloa: McDowall, Tiffoney (Roberts 60), Gordon, Benedictus, Docherty, Ferguson, McCord, Flannigan, Holmes (Chopra 73), Cawley, Buchanan (Layne 73). Subs not used: Gibson, Spence, Hetherington, Rutherford.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS