Hearts proved a cut above in Saturday night’s evening Championship game, beating Alloa Athletic 4-1 at the Indodrill Stadium.
First-half goals from Miguel Pallardo and James Keatings set the Jambos on their way, and although Greig Spence pulled one back for the hosts, Jamie Walker and Callum Paterson made sure the points came back to Gorgie in style.
As predicted, Robbie Neilson made changes to the side that lost 3-2 to Falkirk a week ago. Alim Ozturk, Pallardo and Keatings all returned to the starting line-up, with Jordan McGhee, Sam Nicholson and Genero Zeefuik dropping to the bench.
Hearts attacked from the off, winning a corner inside two minutes. Morgaro Gomis played the ball back across the face of goal but the oncoming Keatings could only hit the side netting.
Three minutes later the Jambos took the lead through the unlikeliest of sources; Pallardo. The Spaniard collected the ball inside the Alloa half before striding forward and blasting an unstoppable effort into the top corner from all of 30-yards out.
Walker then had a chance to double the lead. Osman Sow sent him clear down the right but he fired into the side netting from a slightly acute angle.
The home side proceeded to hit the post in what was a frantic opening ten minutes. Stephen Simmons was slipped in but although he beat Neil Alexander, he could only prod onto the post.
With 11 minutes gone it was 2-0. Keatings showed great skill on the edge of the box to hold onto possession before rifling low into the bottom corner of the net.
Hearts looked dangerous every time they entered Alloa’s half, with Sow in particular threatening. In the 27th minute he brilliantly turned his man to shoot from 18-yards, but Craig McDowall got down well to save.
To their credit, Alloa passed up the park in search of a foothold back into the game. However, they were met by a resolute Hearts defence, with Walker in particular bursting a gut to get back and help out his team-mates.
The crossbar stood between Hearts and a third; Keatings’ 20-yard curling effort had McDowall rooted to the spot but the woodwork denied the striker his second of the match.
Fifteen minutes into the second-half, Alloa halved the deficit. Spence rose to nod beyond Alexander at the bear post, and suddenly Hearts had a battle on their hands.
A moment of Walker magic restored the two-goal cushion in the 66th minute. He won the ball and drove through the Alloa defence, into the box before slotting beyond McDowall.
A lovely passing move almost saw goal no. 4. Keatings moved the ball forward to substitute Genero Zeefuik, who moved it sideways to Adam Eckersley, who in turn teed-up Walker inside the box but McDowall pulled off a fine block.
There was still time for that forth Hearts goal and it came through Paterson. With only two minutes remaining, he outjumped his marker to bullet home from Billy King’s corner.
A thumping win for the Gorgie boys, who stretch their lead at the top of the Championship to 16 points.
Alloa Athletic: McDowall, Doyle, Gordon, Benedictus, Meggatt, Docherty, McCord, Simmons, Holmes (Martin, 60'), Spence, Buchanan (Layne, 60'). Subs: Marr, Tiffoney, Cawley, Hetherington, Gibson.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Wilson, Ozturk, Gomis, Walker (King, 83'), Pallardo, Buaben, Keatings (Oliver, 89'), Sow (Zeefuik, 68'), Eckersley. Subs: Gallacher, Nicholson, McKay, McGhee.
Referee: Stephen Finnie
Top man: Jamie Walker