Craig Levein was full of praise for his young side as one of the most youthful teams in the club’s history ended a tough season in the Ayrshire sunshine.
The Jambos - resembling an U20s side at times - featured eleven teenagers in the match day squad, with top team debuts for sixteen-year-olds Chris Hamilton and Cammy Logan in defence.
There were two further sweet sixteen debuts from the bench as Leeroy Makovora and Connor Smith entered the fray and, although the Jambos were beaten by a sole strike from Lee Erwin early in the match, there was plenty of encouragement for the 749 travelling supporters.
After the match, the manager enthused about the potential of his young stars and paid particular attention to the performance of Chris Hamilton, whose cool head in defence belied his stature and inexperience.
“It was a hard day for us,” admitted Craig. “I’m delighted with them, especially the debutants. We were always in the game, although that was down to Jack Hamilton at times, and we could have had a chance at the end too.
“It’ll do them the world of good, but I thought Chris Hamilton was particularly good, given the size difference between him and Kris Boyd, who’s a handful for any centre-half at times. Chrissy has an old head on his shoulders.
“He understands the art of defending, he just knows where to be. It’s almost like a striker’s instinct in that he knows where the ball’s going to be. He even stood up to Boydy at times which is brave, given he was standing in front of a train.
“Connor Smith also came on in midfield and showed why we have really high hopes for him, he didn’t look out of place, and I want to mention Aaron Hughes, Don Cowie and Kyle Lafferty. It wasn’t an easy game for them today as they kind of had to hold it all together.”
After Kilmarnock took an early lead and continued to threaten, the match looked like it might run away from Hearts, but to the team’s credit they hung in there and, thanks to some superb goalkeeping from Jack Hamilton, were always in the match. Craig confessed part of the difficulty early on was simply down to not talking enough.
“Communication was a bit of a problem for us early on, particularly down the right side as we had two sixteen year olds in Cammy and Anthony, but we got that sorted out. Killie did end up spending more time in our half later on but that was partly down to tiredness as well.
“Part of me worried today could be a sore one, especially early on, but Jack’s kept us in it with a lot of good saves and we probably got away with one today, all things considered. That said, all credit to the boys for the effort they put in.”
Finally, as he reflected on the season, the manager stated he was glad to see the back of it but that he’d take some of the best parts of this season - two derby wins over Hibs, a superb home run, a demolition of Celtic at Tynecastle, the emergence of Harry Cochrane - and try to build on it next season, despite the difficulties this campaign had brought.
“A lot of things have been great individually this season, some fantastic performances from our young players, some terrific individual games where we were excellent, and Kyle’s form in getting 19 goals when we haven’t been firing on all cylinders, but the whole thing does feel a bit draining now, so I’m glad it’s over for the summer.
“We didn’t start the season well and we could have slid down dramatically, which I’ve seen happen before, but we steadied that. I’ve also never seen an injury list like ours in my entire career. I’ll never be happy with a sixth placed finish, no Hearts manager should every say that.
“It could have been a hell of a lot worse, and next season surely cannot be as challenging. There’s a few things to focus on now, like recruitment, which I’m comfortable about. I know what I’m looking for.”