Hearts conquered Cowdenbeath at Central Park on Tuesday night, winning 2-0 in comfortable fashion.
A goal in either half from James Keatings and Callum Paterson means the Gorgie boys will spend Christmas 12 points clear at the top of the Championship table.
Boss Robbie Neilson was forced into a late change as Alim Oztrurk pulled out with a slight hamstring problem, which meant a starting berth for Brad McKay. Elsewhere, Jordan McGhee and Morgaro Gomis slotted in for Scott Robinson and Billy King.
Hearts started confidently and struck the woodwork inside three minutes. Jamie Walker drove towards the Cowdenbeath goal and with no challenge made, he rifled his effort off the post, via a deflection from a blue shirt.
The men in maroon dominated the early proceedings and nearly took the lead in the 24th minute.
McGhee’s hook to the back door found Walker, who brilliantly took the ball down on his chest before hitting a snapshot on target, but Robbie Thompson did well to stand his ground.
Only a minute later the breakthrough was made. Adam Eckersley thundered down the left before picking out Keatings, who placed his first-time, side-footed effort into the corner of the net.
Keatsy almost instantly made it 2-0. His spectacular 25-yard free-kick, after Nat Wedderburn had poleaxed Paterson, beat the ‘keeper but cannoned back off the post. From the resultant corner, McKay outjumped his marker but directed his header straight at Thompson.
The home side just about gifted Hearts another when Wedderburn’s backpass inside the box found only Paterson, but his cutback to Keatings was intercepted and cleared for a corner.
Paterson passed up a chance right on half-time as he latched on to Keatings’ long ball, but his early shot from the edge of the box missed the target.
Cowdenbeath emerged a more confident side after the restart and Hearts had Neil Alexnader to thank for keeping the score at 1-0.
In the 57th minute Sean Higgins was fed inside the box but his 15-yard drive was brilliantly blocked and smothered by the Jambos’ No. 1.
Then, a moment of sheer brilliance gave Hearts a second just after the hour mark. Paterson caught his own header with his chest, 25 yards out, and volleyed straight into the top corner, leaving Thompson with no chance.
Tails once again up, the men in maroon piled forward. Prince Buaben ghosted past two Cowdenbeath players on the edge of the box before blasting inches wide of Thompson’s right-hand post.
Alexander was inspired in the Hearts goal, producing great save after great save when called upon. With ten minutes remaining he pounced to deny Craig Sutherland at the back door, who had risen inside the six-yard box to head goalward.
Full-time 2-0 Hearts, a wonderful performance in what could’ve been a potential banana skin. Robbie’s lads give Jambos everywhere the perfect Christmas present; a 12-point lead at the top of the Championship.
Cowdenbeath: Thompson, O'Brien, Wedderburn, Milne, Higgins, Kane (Campbell, 72'), Miller, Johnston (Jurisic, 82'), Callaghan (Sutherland, 46'), Marshall, Halsman. Subs: Brownlie, Lynas, Scullion, Sneddon.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Wilson, McKay, Gomis, Walker (Buchanan, 88'), Pallardo, Buaben (Holt, 82'), Keatings (Nicholson, 60'), McGhee, Eckersley. Subs: Gallacher, Robinson, Oliver, Flanagan, Buchanan.
Referee: Greg Aitken.
Top man: Callum Paterson.