Driver the hero as Hearts make it three wins in four
Hearts secured a magnificent and fully deserved win at Hamilton Academical this afternoon courtesy of goals from Marius Zaliukas and Andrew Driver in each half.
Andrew Driver was the hero, setting up Zaliukas to head home a 17th minute corner kick before netting himself after 59 minutes following a wonderful mazy run.
Csaba Laszlo made one change to the team that went down on penalties to Airdrie United, midweek. Andrew Driver replaced Saulius Mikoliunas who returned to the bench. Eggert Jonsson retained his slot at right-back, whilst David Obua slotted in behind Jamie Mole with Larry Kingston back on the right.
Hearts were making their first competitive visit to New Douglas Park, coming four years after the home side won the only previous game here - an entertaining pre-season friendly 4-2. Life in the top flight has changed dramatically in the 19 years since Hamilton last featured, but the Accies had done a terrific job in bringing their stadium into line with the tough standards the Clydesdale Bank Premier League demands.
Accies boss Billy Reid made three changes to the side that swept past Clyde on Tuesday. Joel Thomas, Richard Offiong and Alex Neil replaced James Grady, Sebastian Sorsa and the brilliant James McCarthy.
Hearts early efforts were from long range. David Obua's left-foot pile-driver earned his side a corner kick after ten minutes, from which Andrew Driver was able to dig out a powerful effort which was only a yard or so over the bar. Csaba Laszlo's side were enjoying most of the possession, even if they were yet to really test Tomas Cerny.
And when they did Accies had no answer, the Jambos taking a 17th minute lead to the delight of 2,000 travelling fans. Marius Zaliukas was the scorer, heading home Andrew Driver's corner-kick past the Czech stopper from five yards out.
Hamilton's response was swift. Richard Offiong put in substitute James McCarthy, who had replaced injured defender Chris Swailes just after the goal. Marian Kello was equal to the challenge, coming out quickly, making himself big and blocking expertly to deny the teenager.
Hearts came close to doubling their lead seven minutes before half time, in what had become a game of few chances. Larry Kingston fed Jamie Mole down the inside right giving the Newcastle born striker a clean shot at goal. Mole's effort was powerful but lacked direction, much to the delight of the Accies supporters who jeered the 20-year-old as picked himself up.
And only Tomas Cerny stopped Hearts from making it two on 40 minutes as the visitors came closer still. Wallace fed Stewart with a terrific diagonal pass. In return the former Hibs' man drove a wonderful ball to the back post where David Obua was unmarked. He headed across Cerny, only to see the keeper leap acrobatically to push the Ugandan's effort away brilliantly.
Hearts finally doubled their advantage on 58 minutes with a fantastic piece of individual skill from Andrew Driver. The winger picked up a loose ball from Simon Mensing, went past the former Motherwell man, honed in on the left angle and fired the ball across Cerny into the far corner of the net, before wheeling away to celebrate in style in front of the jubilant travelling support.
Of particular interest to Hearts supporters - who by the way were affording quite sensational support to the side - would have been the fluidity of the role's of Obua, Kingston and Driver who interchanged between the right, left and off the front throughout the afternoon.
Driver then came close to the third after cruising past Mensing only to see his Accies defensive partner Elebert block as the winger prepared to unleash a powerful shot at goal with Cerny gone to ground. Not scoring there meant that Hearts would go into the closing stages feeling less comfortable than was otherwise necessary...
Hamilton pulled a goal back ten minutes from time to set up a dramatic finale. Derek Lyle was unmarked to glance home James McArthur's in-swinging cross from ten yards. Suddenly the Jambos looked less than comfortable.
Comfort should have been restored - and Hearts two goal lead - after 84 minutes, but it wasn't. Christian Nade was hacked down by Richard Offiong, giving the visitors a set-piece 25 yards out. Larry Kingston's first effort crashed against the wall, but he picked the loose ball up and drove into the penalty area before firing wide from a tight angle.
Hamilton: Cerny; Stevenson, Elebert, Swailes (McCarthy, 18), Easton; Mensing, McArthur, Neil, Thomas (Corcoran 62), Thomas, Offiong, Akins (Lyle 62). Booked: Neil, Offiong. Subs not used: Murdoch, Casement, Graham, Sorsa.
Hearts: Kello; Jonsson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Kingston, Karipidis, Stewart, Driver; Obua (Ksanavicius 77); Mole (Nade 73). Sub not used: Balogh, Palazuelos, Mikoliunas, Cesnauskis, Thomson.
Referee: Craig Thomson
Top man: Andrew Driver