HEARTS got back to winning ways, but former player Jamie MacDonald made them work hard for it. But, despite the heroics of their keeper it was a disappointing Saturday for Kilmarnock.
The home side eventually saw out the victory, courtesy of a Jamie Walker goal but things could have been more comfortable for them if they had not been denied a second spot kick goal by MacDonald.
Walker had opened the scoring, taking full advantage of Stuart Findlay’s foul on Prince Buaben in the sixth minute. His penalty effort was blocked by the Killie keeper but, forewarned by manager Robbie Neilson, he was first to the rebound.
“That’s what Jamie is good at – shot stopping,” said the Hearts boss. “I spoke to the players before and I said if we get a penalty get in for that second ball because we know he is very good at that – that’s his forte. Anything round about him and he will save it.”
“We’re a little bit frustrated we haven’t helped our goalkeeper out in terms of following it in,” said Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark, who was happy with his players’ overall performance, although a bit dismayed by the loss of the goal.
“He did it again at the second one – and this time the players had learned. I think we put them under pressure without testing their goalkeeper enough. But I feel we deserved something from the game, for sure.”
For Hearts, the result took on an extra shine when considered in the context of all the teams around them dropping points. For Kilmarnock, the fact that teams closest to them picked up points was a disappointment as they struggle to steer themselves clear of relegation troubles.
Not often over the past couple of seasons have Hearts fans have rocked up to Tynecastle with any kind of trepidation. But, the derby defeat followed by a loss at the hands of the relegation favourites had left Hearts supporters, who have grown used to success, unsure of what to expect and looking for a hint that things would be OK as they negotiate the remainder of the campaign.
The expectations are high for the newly promoted club as they look to secure a shot at European football next term and a sequence of three defeats would not have gone down well in front of a 12th consecutive sell-out crowd.
Only Celtic , Aberdeen and Falkirk have beaten them at home since Robbie Neilson took charge but the level of performance has dipped in recent weeks, the displays against Aberdeen and Motherwell from last month far removed from the standard produced in recent weeks. The gaffer tried to address that with sweeping changes and admitted that he was happy to settle for the three points on this occasion.
Kilmarnock started brightly and could have been ahead in the opening seconds of the game but Craig Slater screwed his shot from the middle of the area wide of Neil Alexander’s goal.
But wary of giving their opponents anything to cling to, Hearts hit back in the sixth minute to take the advantage. Alim Ozturk played a long ball forward for Prince Buaben to run on to but his presence unsettled Stuart Findlay, who bundled him over to give Walker the opportunity to beat former team-mate Jamie MacDonald from the spot. The Kilmarnock keeper got a hand to it but was unable to deny the winger from the rebound.
MacDonald pulled off similar heroics at the end of the game, this time getting hands to Abiola Duada’s spot kick and it meant a nervy end to the match for the home contingent as their guests pushed forward.
Hearts, though, had had other chances to give themselves a cushion.
“I thought we started the game quite well, we got the goal and had a bit of possession and we could have got another,” said Neilson.
“If we had got the second goal it would have killed the game. It got more difficult but I thought we defended well. It was important to get a result.
“With Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Celtic dropping points and Ross County losing it gives us a real lift and pushes us up there.”
For Killie, though, it was a blow, with bottom team Dundee United get another victory to cut the deficit to eight points, with a game in hand.
“We can only affect our own results,” said Clark. “There is definitely enough here and we just have to believe that.”