HEARTS full-back Callum Paterson scored one of the goals of the season at Rugby Park yesterday but he was in far from festive mood after he and his team-mates conspired to throw away two points from a winning position.
Kilmarnock - 2
Balatoni 43; Magennis 79
Hearts - 2
Reilly 45; Paterson 55
Robbie Neilson’s side remain in third place but this was a match they should have won comfortably and Paterson knows it.
“I thought we were on top in the whole game and just didn’t take our chances: we didn’t have enough quality in the final third,” he said.
“Straight after our second goal we were on top of the game, but we were made to pay for not having that quality.
“We’re also disappointed with their equaliser. The whole back four is usually strong at set-pieces. The whole back four, with the exception of the left-back are 6ft 3in and yet we can’t win headers in our box.
“We’ll have to go back and look at that because that’s disappointing. We’ll work on that during the week.
“As for their first goal, it was a foul – 100 percent it was [in the build-up] – and everyone knows it was but, at the end of the day, we didn’t get the decision and didn’t defend well, so they scored. It was tough.”
To say that neither side came bursting out of the traps in the first match of 2016 would be something of an understatement.
Indeed, it took 18 minutes before either goalkeeper was called upon to make a save and, even then, Neil Alexander was not unduly concerned by Josh Magennis’s scuffed effort from Tope Obadeyi’s through ball.
Kilmarnock, whose options had been limited by illness and injury to club captain Mark Connolly, Ross Barbour, Mark O’Hara and Kallum Higginbotham, were further disadvantaged when Obadeyi picked up a knock after 31 minutes and had to be replaced by Rory McKenzie.
David Syme, the 18-year-old midfielder deployed at right-back, was cautioned for a rash challenge on Sam Nicholson and former Hearts left-back Kevin McHattie denied his old side when his blocking challenge prevented Juanma from converting a through ball from Prince Buaben.
However, it was another Tynecastle old boy, Conrad Balatoni, who inflicted the more serious damage two minutes from the interval.
The central defender had remained in the penalty area after a set play had been only half-cleared by the visitors and, when Magennis drove the ball across the face of the goal, Balatoni was on hand to force the ball over the line after Alexander had managed to block his first attempt.
Steven Smith was the next home player to be shown a yellow card, for a professional foul on Billy King, but Hearts were by now ramping up the pressure and they equalised on the stroke of half-time.
A surging run from Nicholson concluded with a cutback for King, whose shot was pushed on to the post at full stretch by Jamie MacDonald. Fortunately for Hearts, Gavin Reilly reacted quickest to drill home the rebound from six yards.
There were echoes of that indecision from the home side when Hearts moved in front after 55 minutes.
Nicholson was once again involved, flighting a cross to the far post for Prince Buaben. MacDonald once again did supremely well to spread himself and deny the midfielder from a yard out.
However, the ball was cleared only as far as Callum Paterson 25 yards out and the full-back’s venomous drive flew into the bottom right-hand corner.
Igor Rossi saw a header cleared off the line by McHattie and Nicholson shot wastefully over from Buaben’s through ball as the visitors attempted to turn the screw.
Kilmarnock, who had looked in danger of being over-run, capitalised when Magennis lost his marker and headed home from a Smith corner 11 minutes from time.
The goal came as a relief for manager Gary Locke, who – along with his players – was the subject of some stinging comments from his chairman, Jim Mann, in the match programme.
Mann claimed that the fact Killie currently occupy the play-off position to be “not acceptable” and insisted he would be looking for better performances in 2016.
Locke believes that he already has one.
“We’ve got to show that every week,” he said. “The frustrating thing is it’s against the teams near the top of the league that we have done well.
“It’s against the other teams that we’ve got to make sure we turn up. The fans showed today that, if they see the team applying themselves properly, they will get behind them. That’s what we have to do all the time.
“We played well. The young lads came in and did great. David Syme’s first game of the season and he did very, very well. Frizzell has been playing well.
“Even at 2-1, I always felt we could create chances, which we did. From set-pieces I thought we looked quite dangerous and I was delighted to score from one.”