Hearts battled away to a 2-1 win over Raith Rovers in the penultimate home game of the season.
Sam Nicholson’s first-half strike set the Jambos on their way to victory with Soufian El Hassnaoui making sure of all three points, however Callum Elliot’s goal made sure it wasn’t a comfortable afternoon for the champions.
The gaffer rang the changes following last week’s derby defeat, handing a home debut to Scott Gallacher in goals, while Nicholson, El Hassnaoui and Kenny Anderson were all drafted into the starting line-up.
The match kicked-off with Tynecastle bathed in sunshine, though the opening twenty minutes were nothing to write home about.
The first half-chance fell to the visitors when a cut back from the right found Callum Elliot at the edge of the box but he blasted wildly over the bar.
Hearts threatened the Raith goal after 26 minutes. Paterson went down in the box after trying to get on the end of Anderson’s low cross but referee Willie Collum allowed play to continue and Jamie Walker’s placed effort was blocked in the six-yard box by a white shirt.
Nine minutes later the deadlock was broken. Osman Sow flicked the ball into the path of Nicholson, who ran deep into the box – evading a couple of challenges in the process – before slotting low beyond Cuthbert in the Raith goal.
The visitors passed up a great chance to get back on level terms before half-time. Ryan Conroy was found at the back post but he could only lift his effort over both Gallacher and the crossbar, when the target was at his mercy.
It took the Jambos only 11 minutes into the restart to double their lead. Callum Paterson’s determination saw him win possession on the right before teeing up El Hassnaoui, who stroked home from 18-yards.
Hearts were the dominant team by this point and Cuthbert kept the score at 2-0. Sow’s delightful through-ball found Kevin McHattie inside the box, but the Raith ‘keeper made a fine block.
As often happens in football, the team under the cosh go up the park and score. A great pass from the middle of the park fell at the feet of ex-Jambo Elliot, who composed himself and slotted past Gallacher from 18-yards.
Robbie Neilson made all three subs early, bringing on James Keatings and Gary Oliver for Nicholson and Sow, and handed a Championship debut to 17-year-old Sean McKirdy who replaced Anderson.
A moment of real magic almost saw the two-goal cushion restored as Walker ran in-field and curled a spectacular shot from 25-yards which rattled off cuthbert’s left-hand post.
Oliver was next to test Cuthbert. Walker’s defence-splitting pass saw the striker run through on goal, but the ‘keeper made a stop with his legs and the ball bounced agonisingly off the post and behind.
Hearts had Gallacher to thank for keeping them in front. Elliot’s long-range drive was superbly palmed over the bar by the big ‘keeper as play entered the final six minutes.
The champions saw out the reminder of the game to record another home victory and set themselves up nicely for the final way match of the season next Saturday at Cowdenbeath.
Hearts: Gallacher, Paterson, McHattie, Wilson, Ozturk, Gomis, Walker, El Hassnaoui, Nicholson (Keatings, 68'), Sow (Oliver, 68'), Anderson (McKirdy, 56'). Subs: Hamilton, McKay, Zeefuik, McGhee.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Watson, Moon (Fox, 61'), Stewart (Nade, 80'), Elliot, Callachan, Conroy, McKay (Vaughan, 85'), McKeown, Barr. Subs: McGurn, Hill, Anderson, Scott.
Referee: Willie Collum
Top man: Jamie Walker