Hearts go seven clear
Hearts took full advantage of Dundee United's earlier draw with Hibernian to extend their over Craig Levein's side to seven points. Calum Elliot was the main architect of an ultimately straightforward victory, the oft-maligned striker roaring back to form with two goals before half-time, after Danny Invincibile had given the visitors an early lead. Bruno Aguiar wrapped up the points immediately after the break, and the home side could even afford the luxury of Aguiar's missed penalty as Killie ran out of steam long before the end.
Janos Balogh and Andrew Driver returned alongside Elliot, with all three no doubt hoping to take advantage of Killie's recent poor run which has seen them slump to within three points of bottom spot in the league. That seemed like a false positionto this observer before the game, and the fast start they made to this game only reinforced the notion that any relegation worries harboured by the men from Ayrshire will surely be short-lived.
With giant loan striker Kevin Kyle providing a formidable presence up front and sterling service from Danny Invincibile on either flank, Killie fairly raced out of the blocks. And almost before the home side had got their bearings in the game, the visitors found themselves a goal to the good. Slack defensive play on the Hearts right allowed Mehdi Taouil the freedom of EH11 to hang a high cross towards the back post and, not for the first time this season, the entire Hearts back line was guilty of looking on admiringly as Danny Invincibile rose unchallenged to bullet the ball past Balogh from seven yards.
To their credit the home side responded well, and might have sneaked an equaliser within four minutes. Elliot's attempted flick over David Lilley was blocked by the defender, before Driver's stabbed follow-up was turned over the bar by the alert Alan Combe.
Hearts kept at it, though, and it didn't take to much longer for the home side to get its reward. This time it was the turn of the Killie to stand back and admire as Aguiar floated in a good free-kick from the left and Marius Zaliukas poked it towards goal. Although Combe got his hands to the ball, he could not hold it securely, and Elliot was on hand to prod home from three yards.
That was pretty good but there was better to come just six minutes later. Again the danger came from the left, where Lee Wallace found time to slide a pass towards the centre. Again Elliot was alive to the situation, nipping ahead of his marker to divert the ball low past the static Combe.
And the striker almost bagged himself an unlikely hat-trick ten minutes later when a great ball from Michael Stewart released Driver to scamper down the right. The winger's early ball across the face of the box fell perfectly for Elliot, but his attempt to steer the ball home drifted a yard wide of the right-hand post.
Now we could see why Killie are struggling at the wrong end of the table, although they still had their moments towards the end of the half. Not least when Kyle dived full length to steal the ball and head goalward as Karipidis tired to gain control of the ball. Fortunately for Hearts Balogh, was alert, and dived low to his left to clutch.
The home side began the second half in much the same way as they had ended the first and within five minutes had secured themselves a two-goal cushion. Again the assist came from the left, and again it was Elliot causing concern in the middle as he challenged Combe. The ball squirted free, and Aguiar was on hand to steer it high into the net.
The Portuguese should have doubled his tally from the spot ten minutes later after Elliot was upended in the area by Lilley. Aguiar's attempt was decent enough, but cannoned back off the inside of the keeper's right-hand post and right away to safety.
And that was pretty much the end of the incident in the game. A flurry of substitutions from Killie made no discernible difference to proceedings, while late cameos for Christian Nade and Mike Tullberg served no other purpose than to elicit standing ovations for the pair they replaced. And for once, thank goodness, there was no late scare.
Hearts: Balogh; Neilson, Karipidis, Zaliukas, Wallace; Obua, Stewart (Jonsson 80), Palazuelos, Driver; Aguiar (Tullberg 90); Elliot (Nade 89). Subs not used: MacDonald, Cesnauskis, McGowan, Templeton.
Kilmarnock: Combe; Murray (Gibson 46), Lilley, Ford, Hay; Taouil, Pascali (O'Leary 56), Fernandez (Anson 78), Hamill, Invincibile; Kyle. Booked: Taouil, Pascali, Kyle. Subs note used: Rascle, Wright, Skelton, Flannigan.
Referee: David Sommers
Top man: Calum Elliot
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