Hearts battled to a 1-0 win at Livingston on Saturday to extend their lead at the top of the league to 15 points.
James Keatings bagged the game’s only goal midway through the first-half, in a match where the Jambos dug deep to win.
Never afraid to change his team to suit the tactics of the day, Robbie Neilson made four switches from the side that beat Cowdenbeath 2-0 during the week. Billy King, Sam Nicholson, Jason Holt and Alim Ozturk all slotted in, while Jamie Walker, Brad McKay, Jordan McGhee and Miguel Pallardo had to settle for spaces on the bench.
Hearts could’ve been 3-0 up inside 13 minutes. James Keatings was found at the back door by Adam Eckersley but he couldn’t steer his effort on target.
Holt’s snapshot from inside the box was brilliantly beaten away by Darren Jamieson, then Holt was tripped in the area for a penalty.
Keatings stepped up but couldn’t beat Jamieson, who saved with his legs.
By the 16th minute it was Jamieson v Hearts. King skipped away from his marker down the left and floated a cross in, which Nicholson connected with 10-yards out, but the Livi ‘keeper instinctively stuck out an arm to block the header.
The deadlock was broken in the 25th minute. Eckersley kept the ball in when the chances looked slim and sent King clear down the flank. The lightning-fast winger picked his moment before sending a ball over for Keatings to knock into an empty net from inside the six-yard box.
Just like midweek, Neil Alexander came to the rescue when called upon. Livi’s Jordan White cut inside the box away from Ozturk and fired a 36th minute shot across the face of goal, but the Hearts no. 1 got down quickly to parry away.
Livingston came flying out the traps in the second-half, keen to press when Hearts had the ball. That didn’t stop Nicholson from creating a chance at the other end though, as he weaved his way past three players inside the box before blasting wildly over from six yards.
Nicholson was again was involved in another attack, this time sliding to prod Callum Paterson’s low cross in but Jamieson stood firm to make the save.
At the other end Burton O’ Brien slammed a shot on target but didn’t trouble Alexander too much.
Moments later Declan Gallagher found himself with the ball at his feet inside the Hearts box following a stramash, but he ballooned his effort over the bar.
The game was nearly killed off with seven minutes remaining when Prince Buaben headed Nicholson’s cross off the post, then Gary Oliver appeared to be tripped inside the box as he went for the rebound but the referee booked the Hearts striker for an alleged dive.
A game of two halves for the Jambos, as the fluidity from the first period seemed to disappear. However, another three points in the bag as Hearts open up a 15 point gap at the top of the Championship.
Livingston: Jamieson, Mensing, Fordyce, Jacobs (Praprotnik, 86'), O'Brien, Gallagher, McKenna (Hippolyte, 46'), White, Glen, Mullen, Rutherford (Ogleby, 86'). Subs: K. Walker, Sives, Robertson, Beaumont.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Wilson, Ozturk, Gomis, Holt (Pallardo, 58'), Nicholson, King, Buaben, Keatings (Oliver, 68'), Eckersley. Subs: Hamilton, Walker, Robinson, McKay, McGhee.
Referee: John McKendrick
Top man: Billy King