KILMARNOCK have misfired lately after a fine start to the season, but got back on track and moved into third place in the Clydesdale Bank Premierleague with a narrow and late but deserved win over Hearts at Tynecastle. The visitors upped their work rate massively from last week's defeat at Inverness, while Hearts missed chances and gave the ball away too often.
There seemed little danger when Craig Bryson picked up the ball deep in the Hearts half in the 80th minute, but the Kilmarnock midfielder ran forcefully and played a one-two with substitute Donovan Simmonds before shooting low past Marian Kello to collect the three points. It was a sickener for Hearts, but the noisy contingent of visiting fans in the 13,100 crowd were ecstatic.
Kilmarnock manager Jim Jefferies paid Bryson a warm tribute after the match: "It reminded me of what Colin Cameron used to do here when I had him at Hearts, coming in late into the box and having the composure to finish." Bryson retorted: "That is some compliment," before revealing that during the week he had received one of Jefferies' persuasive chats – a rollicking, in other words.
Hard work is always Jefferies' top demand of his players, and he got it yesterday: "If we show the same application they have done this season – apart from the Inverness game – then we will contest the top six". They may go even higher as this is a developing young team with obvious potential.
The windy, chilly, and frequently rainy conditions gave a foretaste of winter ahead and also affected the match considerably. It took the players some time to adjust to the flight of the ball and the weight of numerous passes was awry in the conditions.
The weather may also have contributed to a flat atmosphere for periods of the game. Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo said afterwards his young team needs the supporters' backing, but it is legitimate to question if Hearts fans and players are not just getting a little downcast after the latest of many off-the-field fiascos at Tynecastle – "did the players enter by the unwaged concession gate?" as one joker put it.
Kilmarnock had the better of the opening exchanges, but Hearts soon found their stride and captain Christophe Berra headed a Laryea Kingston corner into the side net before Kingston, by far Heart's best attacking influence, placed a delightful cross in front of the in-rushing Mike Tullberg, making his first start and home debut. The big Dane was caught in two minds and the ball deflected wide off his midriff.
The opening goal by Kilmarnock was down to Jamie Mole's forward-style tackle on Bryson. He not only conceded a free-kick 25 yards out directly in front of his goal, but he was also booked and then watched Mehdi Taouil hit a ferocious curling free-kick over the wall and into the net, with Kello well beaten.
The goalscorer got himself a yellow card for a silly pull of Michael Stewart's shirt, and was joined in the book later by Simon Ford, David Fernandez, Manuel Pascali, Frazer Wright and David Lilley. The card count indicates, correctly, this was a competitive, physical encounter, but it was not an overly dirty one.
Hearts' equaliser had a touch of good luck, but it was deserved for their efforts in reply to the opener. A "route one" move ended with Stewart's shot cannoning off the defence straight to the unmarked Kingston who side-footed with slide-rule precision past Alan Combe into the bottom corner.
Scoring chances were practically non-existent until half-time, but Kilmarnock should have taken the lead early in the second period when a delightful lob from Fernandez put Conor Sammon clean through, only for Berra to get back and clear as the Irishman hesitated.
At the other end, Kingston nearly finished off a Jason Thomson cross in style, but the ball just cleared the bar. Kilmarnock captain Manuel Pascali tried to blunt Kingston's attacking threat and was booked for doing so after a fierce tackle in the 68th minute which put the little Ghanaian off for treatment.
Almost as soon as he returned, Kingston seemed set to score when he got free inside the box, but Alan Combe threw himself to block the shot. A long-range effort from Ford showed that Kilmarnock were still mighty dangerous, and so it proved when Bryson snatched the winner. Hearts tried hard for the equaliser and nearly snatched it deep in injury time when Kingston – who else? – headed narrowly past.
The home side now have a fortnight to pick themselves up before they face Hibs at Easter Road in what is a crucial derby even at this early stage of the season. Laszlo said he was "very angry" and disappointed at yesterday's display, saying his players gifted too many chances to their opponents.
Berra promised that the new players at Tynecastle would learn what the next match is all about in plenty of time: "They will get to know in the build up how big a game it is. There will be a lot of passionate fans and we have to show the same passion on the pitch."
MAN OF THE MATCH
He will no doubt rue missed chances and lost points, but Laryea Kingston returned to his best form yesterday.
In the programme, David Obua picked his Dream Team, with Maradona, Zidane and Ronaldo all featuring. His "dream" manager? Hearts boss Csaba Laszlo, making the article a certain entry in Private Eye magazine's Order of the Brown Nose column.
Jim Jefferies played mind games yesterday. He amazed Kilmarnock fans by making Manuel Pascali captain in Garry Hay's absence and admitted it was "psychological management" which gave Pascali "a wee spur" towards his impressive display.