Solid display puts Killie to the sword
You wait all season to win a game by more than one goal, then two such victories come along in less than a week. Hearts were marginally outfought by Kilmarnock in the first half, but totally dominated the second, with well worked goals from Bruno Aguiar and Christos Karipidis proving the crucial difference. It means that, for 24 hours at least, Hearts leapfrog Aberdeen back into fourth spot, level on points with Dundee United. It was our first win at Rugby Park since the opening day of the 2005/6 season.
Spurious cliches aside, it is never easy when you come to Kilmarnock. The home team is compact, difficult to break down and backed by an unusually loud set of supporters when you consider the average attendances. Hearts were arriving in Ayrshire determined to avenge the 2-1 defeat at Tynecastle earlier in the season, when a Manuel Pascali-inspired Killie bullied the Jambos out of the game.
Hearts made five changes from the line-up that began last week's success in Leith, although some were enforced. Jamie MacDonald was between the sticks in place of Balogh, Neilson and Thomson shored up defence in place of Zaliukas and Wallace, and in midfield Michael Stewart and Bruno Aguiar were in as well. Eggert Jonsson dropped back to central defence.
It's rare that half an hour of a match can be described in a couple of sentences, although on this occasion it could, The opening 30 minutes were uneventful to say the least. Garry Hay's tame free kick was comfortably gathered by Jamie MacDonald and Danny Invincibile's run through on goal was eventually dealt with. At the other end, Andy Driver had a couple of corners that caused problems, but there was no breakthrough.
David Fernandez was guilty of an appalling miss in the 34th minute, when Berra lost the ball and the Spaniard was fed through one on one with the keeper. He was well ahead of the chasing pack and could conceivably have taken the ball into the box. However, he appeared to panic and blasted a horrendous effort high into the stand.
Mere moments later, a well-worked Killie moved allowed Garry Hay to curl a delightful cross to MacDonald's back post and gave Allan Russell a free header at goal. Three quarters of the stadium was on its feet in celebration, until they noticed the small matter of the net failing to bulge. Russell had, somehow, put it wide.
Conditions were worsening as we approached half time and it was perfectly understandable that neither team was able to spray the ball around the park. Both sets of fans would be looking for more however, in the second period.
Sadly for us, the second half began in much the same vein. Having gone the whole of the first half without amassing a booking, Hearts received two in as many minutes, when Jonsson and Aguiar entered Mr Richmond's notebook for mistimed challenges; Bruno was a little unlucky we thought.
Whatever his sense of injustice, Bruno clearly didn't let it linger because he gave Hearts the lead on the hour mark with a wonderful strike following a terrific move, the first real bit of quality we'd seen all day. Michael Stewart was at the heart of the move, executing a great one-two with Driver before racing forward and drawing men towards him as he slipped a great pass into Aguiar just outside the box. Bruno let the ball run across him before thumping one of his trademark sweet drives into the left hand corner of Alan Combe's goal. It had come from nowhere but we weren't complaining.
Killie began to flood in the midfield in a desperate bid to regain momentum. The creative and effective Taouil was being given the ball at every opportunity and Donovan Simmonds was brought on for Allan Russell, who had missed a good chance just after Aguiar's goal.
Mehdi Taouil scored a stunning free-kick at Tynecastle in October, so we held our breath when Nade was pulled up for a foul outside the penalty box in the 76th minute. The Morroccan's effort this time was straight at MacDonald.
Last week's last minute hero Gary Glen was introduced for Aguiar in the 79th minute, but he played no part in the subsequent Hearts goal that followed. It was a trick we've seen before - high pass, this time from Michael Stewart, to the back post, Christophe Berra knocks it across goal and someone heads or taps in. On this occasion it was Christos Karipidis in the right place at the right time, to head past Combe and in.
To Killie's credit, they kept pressing despite the gradual outflux of supporters and a cracking volley from sub Willie Gibson was superbly saved by MacDonald, who had been inactive for a while. Nade nearly made it 3-0 when he latched on to a sloppy backpass, but Combe blocked well with his legs. It was equally to Hearts credit that they had not switched off and were still pressing their hosts all over the park. The rain teemed down, the home fans kept departing and in the third minute of injury time, Mr Richmond put Jim Jefferies' team out of their misery.
Kilmarnock: Combe; Fowler, Hay, Wright, Ford, Bryson, Russell (Simmonds, 71), Taouil, Invincibile (Gibson, 74), Fernandez, Pascali. Booked: Bryson. Subs not used: Rascle, Murray, Skelton, Flannigan, Nolan.
Hearts: MacDonald; Neilson, Jonsson, Berra, Thomson; Obua, Karipidis, Stewart, Driver (Cesnauskis, 72); Aguiar (Glen, 79); Nade. Booked: Jonsson, Aguiar, Obua. Subs not used: Kello, Mrowiec, Templeton, Rapnik, Brown.
Referee: Charlie Richmond
Top man: Christos Karipidis
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