Hearts continued their love affair with the top of the Championship by recording a 1-0 Valentine’s Day win over Livingston.
Jamie Walker’s first-half strike was all that separated the two teams, in what was another battling performance.
Robbie Neilson set his stalls out from the off, deploying an attacking line-up. Adam Eckersley and Prince Buaben were in from the start after missing last weekend’s game while Kenny Anderson made his home debut.
After a sluggish start it was the visitors who got the first shot in on goal. Jordan White took advantage of the bounce 20-yards out before letting fly, but Neil Alexander sprung to his right to touch the ball around the post.
Jamie Walker showed sheer brilliance moments later, thrusting through the middle of the park and exchanging a delightful one-two with Genero Zeefuik which took him into the box, but Darren Jamieson was at his best to deny the winger’s low drive.
18 minutes in, Walker almost turned provider. James Keatings found him at the edge of the box, and his smart cut-back teed-up the no. 19 but Jamieson was on-hand again to tip the ball over the bar.
Walker was proving to be the Jambos’ most effective attacking outlet in the first-half and he tested the Livi ‘keeper again in the 39th minute. Zeefuik showed superior strength to hold the ball up before laying off Walker, who dribbled across the face of the box before shooting straight at Jamieson.
Walker’s tenacity paid off a minute later as he fired Hearts into the lead. His initial shot was blocked inside the box but he followed up on the rebound, took it round Jamieson and slammed the ball home high into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Hearts started the second-half in the same attacking manner. Walker’s backheel fell into the path of Keatings, but his 15-yard snapshot was blocked by Jamieson, before Buaben’s low drive took a heavy deflection and spun just round the post.
A series of nasty challenges saw a flutter of yellow cards produced as tempers threatened to boil over.
At the other end, Alexander palmed Craig Sives’ header over the bar, after the Livi centre-half connected with Burton O’Brien’s free-kick.
With 17 minutes remaining, the visitors were down to ten men. Nejc Praprotnik brought down Buaben from behind and referee Alan Muir produced a second yellow to send the Livi man packing.
Bizarrely, Jordan White almost won the game for Hearts. Billy King’s cross was met by the Livi striker but he cannoned his defensive header off the crossbar and out for a corner. Jamieson then had to scramble to claw Walker’s set piece off the line, direct from the corner flag.
Zeefuik passed up a glorious chance to seal the points with only two minutes remaining. Gary Glen’s misplaced pass sent the Dutchman racing clear, but he tried to chip Jamieson and could only send it into the ‘keeper’s clutches, despite already being on the deck.
If that wasn’t a bad enough miss, King’s subsequent effort surpassed it. Walker and Gary Oliver combined to set him up in the six-yard box, but he scooped the ball high and wide of the target.
It mattered not, however, as Hearts held out to bag another three points.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Wilson, Ozturk, Walker, Pallardo, Buaben, Keatings (Gomis, 67'), Anderson (King, 46'), Zeefuik (Oliver, 89'), Eckersley. Subs: Gallacher, El Hassnaoui, Nicholson, McGhee.
Livingston: Jamieson, Sives, Fordyce, Kyle Jacobs, Keaghan Jacobs, O'Brien (Glen, 70'), Gallagher, Praprotnik, White, Mullen (Beaumont, 87'), Sekajja (McKenna, 81'). Subs: Kevin Walker, Hippolyte, Pittman, Rutherford.
Referee: Alan Muir
Top man: Jamie Walker