Hearts moved into second place in the cinch Premiership with a hard-fought win over St Mirren today at Tynecastle Park.
Goals in the last half-hour from Gary Mackay-Steven and Stephen Kingsley moved Hearts to within three points of Rangers at the league summit.
Robbie Neilson made four changes to the side that lost 2-0 to Motherwell last weekend, with returns to the side for Mackay-Steven, Andy Halliday, Liam Boyce and Craig Halkett.
After a fairly tame opening ten minutes, the visitors began to grab a foothold in the match and had a great opportunity to open the scoring midway through the first half when a corner landed at Charles Dunne, but he was denied by the feet of Craig Gordon, moments after Gordon pushed away an Eamonn Brophy effort from the edge of the box.
Hearts had their first opening after some nice play between Barrie McKay and Michael Smith, setting up Boyce at the edge of the box but his shot was deflected wide.
After a stoppage lasting nearly 5 minutes, Hearts found their best chance so far. Smith waltzed through the middle of the park and played in Boyce but he cut back onto his right foot when a shot was on with his left, and the chance was lost.
Following half-time, some magic from McKay set up a brilliant opportunity for Mackay-Steven. He pinged a cross from right to left and GMS met it crisp on the volley but Jak Alnwick made a superb stop.
After this, St Mirren had a period of sustained pressure. First, Gordon made a stunning one handed save to deny Jamie McGrath’s snapshot from the edge of the box. Then, from the resulting corner, Boyce cleared a header off the line before Gordon threw himself at the ball to block the rebound.
On the hour, he produced his best save, as he acrobatically tipped over a shot from Kyle McAllister that was flying into the top corner. Moments later, at the other end, a swift break saw McKay set up Smith but Alnwick made a fine stop.
Two minutes after that, Hearts took the lead. Halkett did superbly to win the ball on the halfway line and drove towards goal with the ball eventually working its way left to McKay. His shot deflected into the path of Mackay-Steven and GMS made no mistake from just inside the area to bury the ball into the corner.
Boyce came close soon after when he worked his way into the area, driving a left footed strike low at goal with Alnwick saving. Cammy Devlin dove in at the rebound but was booked for colliding with the keeper.
Hearts looked to have sealed the win courtesy of yet another screamer from Kingsley with 15 minutes remaining. After Boyce was felled on 25 yards out, Kingsley stepped up and curled an absolute pearler into the top corner giving Alnwick no chance.
The Jambos were dealt a blow with five minutes remaining when Beni Baningime was stretchered off with an injury, with Peter Haring coming on. As the game neared its conclusion, McKay thought he’d grabbed his first Hearts goal, but a last ditch challenge denied the winger.
In stoppage time, Joe Shaughnessy was shown a second yellow card for bringing down Devlin on the edge of the area after a first-half booking, but Kingsley couldn’t repeat the trick and shot over in the final action of the match.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Halkett, Souttar, Kingsley, Halliday, Devlin, Baningime (Haring '86), McKay, Mackay-Steven (Ginnelly '70), Boyce (Gnanduillet '81). Subs not used: Stewart, McEneff, Woodburn, Cochrane.