Hearts beat Kilmarnock 1-0 in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Premiership match at Tynecastle.
The Jambos emerged victorious in what was a tight encounter, with Jamie Walker’s early penalty all that separated the two sides.
Robbie Neilson made five changes from the side that lost at Tannadice a week ago. Callum Paterson, Igor Rossi and John Souttar all slotted into defence, Arnaud Djoum returned to the middle of the park while Gavin Reilly was brought into the forward line.
The visitors should’ve taken the lead after only a minute. A low ball into the Hearts box was touched back by Tope Obadeyi to the completely unmarked Craig Slater, but he failed to hit the target with his first-time snapshot.
Hearts went up the park and went close with a chance of their own. Walker’s corner to the near post was met by Reilly, and his header flew inches over the crossbar.
Six minutes into the game, the Jambos took the lead. Alim Ozturk’s long ball forward saw Prince Buaben beat Stuart Findlay and race into the box, only for the Killie man to bring him down. Referee Don Robertson pointed to the spot and Walker stepped up, but Jamie MacDonald sprung to touch the ball onto the post, however Walker lifted the rebound over the line.
Hearts maintained the upper hand, pressing forward at every opportunity, yet it was Killie with the game’s next chance. Josh Magennis weaved his way into the edge of the box before drilling low on target, but Neil Alexander got down quickly to beat the ball behind. Moments later, Conrad Balatoni had a header cleared off the line by Paterson.
Hearts immediately broke up the park through Abiola Dauda, who tore the length of the Killie half before finding Walker inside the box, but his first-time shot was well blocked by MacDonald.
Walker’s 40th minute corner caused all sorts of problems in the Kilmarnock defence as the visitors failed to clear, Souttar found himself in space inside the six-yard box but the ball wouldn’t drop in time and his attempt at a shot was hammered clear.
Ozturk made MacDonald work a few minutes later, lifting a set piece 25-yards out over the wall, but the Killie ‘keeper scrambled to his left to claw the ball away, before a defender prevented Walker from getting to the rebound by prodding behind.
The action continued in the KIllie box, this time Nicholson burst away from his man before hitting a low rocket-shot, but MacDonald made a smart save with his legs to deny the Hearts winger.
Three minutes into the restart, Hearts hit the woodwork. Paterson’s deep cross found Nicholson, who out-jumped his man, only to see his header crash back off MacDonald’s left-hand post.
Kilmarnock then enjoyed their best spell in the game, keeping possession with a series of throw-ins deep inside the Hearts half. Obadeyi was proving a handful over on the right, and just before the hour mark he cut inside away from two maroon shirts and fired low, narrowly missing the target.
The visitors kept up the pressure, with Magennis racing clear down the left before drilling low across the face of goal from a very acute angle.
Hearts lost the services of Paterson with 15 minutes remaining, after he landed heavily on his shoulder following an aerial challenge. He was replaced by Blazej Augustyn.
Nicholson then went agonisingly close to making it 2-0, capitalising on a poor header back to round the ‘keeper, but at a tough angle he chipped towards the line, only to see the ball cleared.
The Jambos had the chance to wrap the game up with ten minutes to go, after being awarded another penalty, this time for Rossi’s header hitting a hand, but Dauda’s low effort from the spot was saved by MacDonald, who then made it a double save by stopping Nicholson’s rebound.
Five added minutes did nothing to settle nerves, but the Jambos held on to make up ground on second-placed Aberdeen.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson (Augustyn, 75'), Ozturk, Souttar, Rossi, Walker, Buaben (Cowie, 62'), Djoum, Nicholson, Reilly (Juanma, 68'), Dauda. Subs: Hamilton, Oshaniwa, Pallardo, Zanatta.
Kilmarnock: MacDonald, Findlay, O'Hara (Faubert, 28'), Obadeyi, Slater (Boyd, 63'), McHattie, Kiltie, Balatoni, Hodson, Magennis, Dicker. Subs: Brennan, Higginbotham, Ashcroft, Carrick, Frizzell.
Referee: Don Robertson
Top Man: Igor Rossi