Kilmarnock 0-1 Heart of Midlothian
A dominant Hearts side earned a thoroughly deserved win at Rugby Park with John Sutton's early goal proving to be the winner.
A fine bit of team play from Ryan Stevenson and Michael Ngoo set up a far post tap-in for John Sutton, and despite a missed penalty from Stevenson later in the game, Hearts held on and were rarely troubled by the home side.
Hearts made four changes from the 4-2 victory over Ross County a fortnight ago. Out went Brad McKay, Callum Tapping, Mehdi Taouil and Dale Carrick. They were replaced by Andrew Webster, Darren Barr, John Sutton and the goalscoring substitute from the County encounter, Jason Holt. The Jambos were looking to make amends for a poor season against Kilmarnock, the Ayrshire side having taken a maximum 9 points out of 9 in the three previous encounters this season.
Hearts started brightly, with Jamie Walker looking dangerous on the left flank. An early effort saw the winger's long range effort struggle to trouble Cammy Bell in the Killie goal.
The away side were rewarded for their good start as John Sutton netted his 8th goal of the season. Stevenson played a great long ball through to Ngoo, whose cutback fooled the defender and squared the ball for Sutton to tap in.
In the 22nd minute, Hearts should have doubled their lead. Ngoo collected McHattie's throw and laid the ball to Sutton but the striker ballooned the ball over the bar. A minute later, Jamie Hamill's looped cross found the head of Walker, but the youngster's header missed the goal by inches. Walker threatened again soon after when his vicious shot was spilled by Bell with Sutton slow to react to the rebound.
Just before half time, Hearts were almost caught by a sucker punch. James Fowler's half volley took a wicked deflection off Webster and nearly wrongfooted MacDonald but fortunately, the ball crept wide.
Hearts were dealt a blow in the second half as Michael Ngoo succumbed to a chest injury, and had to be replaced by Dale Carrick. The young striker made an immediate impact as he used his speed to outpace the home defence and played a one-two with Jason Holt, before Bell saved his shot from distance.
On the hour mark, Hearts were gifted the chance to put the game to bed when Jamie Walker's superb solo run was brought to an abrupt stop by Mo Sissoko with Calum Murray awarding a penalty. Ryan Stevenson stepped up by Bell produced a superb double save to deny the ex-Ayr man, then Jason Holt who was closing in on the rebound.
Arvydas Novikovas replaced Walker and the sub made an impressive start, skinning Ross Barbour and playing a superb ball across the face of goal. The on-rushing Carrick was just a second too late and missed the target, although the move deserved more than the resulting miss.
Finally, the Killie onslaught happened. Kris Boyd missed a header from 6 yards out, then his snapshot brought a superb save out of Jamie MacDonald, before Mark O'Hara's last gasp shot flew wide in stoppage time.
Just a second away SPL win for the Jambos this season, but just as well deserved as the last win at Tannadice in September, and the first time this season Hearts have won two SPL games back to back. An excellent day's work for Gary Locke's men.
Kilmarnock: Bell, O'Hara, O'Leary (Gros 69'), Sissoko, Tesselaar (Perez 46'), Ibrahim (Johnstone 46'), Clingan, Fowler, Barbour, Heffernan, Boyd. Subs not used: Jaakkola, Hay, Sheridan, Slater.
Hearts: Macdonald, Hamill, Webster, Wilson, McHattie; Holt, Barr (McGowan 88'), Stevenson, Walker (Novikovas 74'); Ngoo (Carrick 48'), Sutton. Subs not used: Ridgers , Taouil, McKay, D Smith.
Referee: Calum Murray
Top man: John Sutton