Hearts earned a hard-fought victory at Somerset Park this evening after a 1-0 win over Ayr United.
Liam Boyce’s second half penalty was the difference, as Hearts extended their lead at the top of the Championship to 12 points.
The Jambos lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with new signing Armand Gnanduillet handed a first start while deadline day signings Aaron McEneff and Gervane Kasteneer took places on the bench.
There should have been a penalty in the opening five minutes of the game when the ball was played through to Liam Boyce, who was felled in the area but to the astonishment of the players, no foul was given.
Hearts were shooting into the wind in the first half, and the conditions were causing trouble with Ayr managing to keep them penned in by virtue of some pressing and the weather, with goal kicks from Craig Gordon struggling to even reach the halfway line.
Chances were at a premium, with the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock a number of dangerous balls across the area, and a curled free kick from Andy Irving which evaded everyone and just missed Mihai Popescu and Jamie Walker at the back post.
Hearts were awarded a chance to take the lead early in the second half, when a ball from Andy Halliday was whipped in towards Gnanduillet, but it was handled en route by Ayr stopper Aaron Muirhead. Boyce got his chance from the spot, and took it, burying the ball high into the net.
With the wind at their backs, Hearts were now penning Ayr in and controlling possession. After the hour, McEneff and Kasteneer were introduced, with both impressing early on with the ground they were covering.
Ayr threw on some forwards in an attempt to level things, but Hearts nearly sealed it late on. First, Popescu had a shot blocked, before Kasteneer shot over the bar on a counter.
Into added time, and Ayr had one last chance when the ball fell to Michael Moffat, but a superb block from Craig Halkett ensured three points returned home to Gorgie.
Ayr United: Sinisalo, Muirhead, Miller (McKenzie, 85'), Ndaba, Murdoch, Wright, Chalmers (McGavin, 79'), Smith, Walsh (Moffat, 74'), McCowan, Baird. Subs: Hare-Reid, Reading, Zanatta, Roscoe.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Walker, Gnanduillet (McEneff, 66'), Boyce, Halliday, Mackay-Steven (Kastaneer, 66'), Irving (Naismith, 78'), Kingsley, Halkett, Popescu. Subs: Stewart, White, Haring, Berra.