Hearts know that by the time tomorrow’s action is done, they could be dislodged from their perch at the top of the Premiership.
But while they are concerning themselves with the positions at the top of the table, Saturday’s victors are well and truly keeping a lid on their own ambitions.
The win at Tynecastle, courtesy of a well-drilled defensive display and Ross Millen’s 72nd minute strike, moved Kilmarnock into third place but rather than celebrate that achievement, manager Steve Clarke said he was disappointed that his men had not done more to move themselves even further from the lower realms of the division.
“I think we should be higher in the league. I am probably a little bit disappointed with our points tally to be honest,” said the Rugby Park boss,“It is nice at this stage of the season to be so far away from the bottom two and if we can pick up a lot more points over the next eight matches until the winter break then maybe if we do things properly we can think about mounting a serious challenge for the top six again. For a club like Kilmarnock that is always the priority. We have to get away from the bottom, then we have to try and cement a top six place, after that it for the supporters to dream. Not for us.”
But Hearts have been dreaming. Top of the pile since the first day of the season and unbeaten at home this term, they piled the pressure on their visitors in this match but lacked the creative spark and a cutting edge to slice them open and turn their superior possession into something rewarding.
Rigid and unyielding, Kilmarnock stonewalled them throughout the 90 minutes as frustration grew in the home ranks and with the management considering fresh options to try to unlock them, it was Killie who produced the goods and hit them with a suckerpunch.
Quick on the break throughout the match, they were focused in the way they got bodies behind the ball when Hearts were probing, but as soon as there was a turnover, they broke at pace and dug deep to get bodies up in support.
With 18 minutes remaining, Mikael Ndjoli and Greg Taylor combined to make up ground and when the latter cut the ball back for Millen, the player who had considering quitting the game in the summer, he managed to ignore the encroaching Jimmy Dunne and Ben Garuccio and coolly drilled his effort low and under the diving Zdenek Zlamal.
Understudy to Scotland full-back Stephen O’Donnell, he has had to wait for his chance but, in his first league appearance for the Ayrshire side and in his first ever top flight game, the defender made a memorable impact.
“I was chucking it,” explained the 24-year-old of his prospects in the summer. “I came out of Queens Park and had nothing and I had fallen out of love with football. I thought I had done well at Queens Park but because of the way we finished, which wasn’t as well as the year before, people were not watching.
“But I got an opportunity through an agent to come in on trial for a week and I did not bad and then went with them to La Manga and he [Clarke] offered me six months and I obviously snapped his hand off and I’ve just worked really hard.”
Hoping he can extend that contract beyond the new year, yesterday’s performance against this season’s pacesetters will have done him no harm.
But if he was thrilled, Hearts manager Craig Levein was frustrated. Only the side’s second defeat at Tynecastle in 18 months, it is a lack of goals that is damaging them. The majority of their efforts came from set pieces, the odd whipped in ball from the flanks or from a ball that broke and they had to try to react to. But on a day when they huffed and puffed, none of them seriously looked like finding the back of the net.
They have only drawn a blank in five games this term but four of them have come in the past four matches, and all since talismanic attacker Steven Naismith was sidelined with a knee injury. News that he could be back sooner than expected will be even more warmly welcomed as a consequence.
But in the meantime the team have to find a way of winning games without him, according to manager Craig Levein.
“There are loads of ways of losing a match but that’s the most frustrating, when you have loads of possession and dominate the play. We should have been better in the final third but to lose that way makes me feel really frustrated.
“The players who we have out injured, I think it would be easier to score goals if we had them in the team - everybody knows that. At the same time, we need people to step up and at times like this, put the ball in the back of the net.”