Hearts ran out comfortable 6-1 winners over Queen of the South this afternoon to extend their lead at the top of the Championship to four points.
Steven Naismith and Liam Boyce gave the Jambos a two-goal cushion at half time, with another Boyce strike putting the men in maroon on easy street. Ayo Obileye pulled one back for the visitors before Jamie Walker, Elliott Frear and Josh Ginnelly rounded off proceedings in another convincing victory.
Robbie Neilson made two changes from the side that beat Greenock Morton a week ago. Aidy White was handed his first Championship start of the season and Northern Ireland internationalist Boyce returned to the starting line up, with Andy Halliday and Craig Wighton moving to the bench.
Hearts were quick to stamp their authority on the game and retained possession. 10 minutes in, Stephen Kingsley crossed into the box for Olly Lee but he could only head over.
Lee was involved again soon after, showing bravery to win a header inside the box and although Gregor Buchanan cleared it only went as far as Jamie Walker, whose first-time volley flew past the target.
Walker tried his luck again on 17 minutes after being teed up by Naismith, but the No. 7’s ambitious long-range effort went over the bar.
The deadlock was broken in style after 20 minutes. Lee again showed bravery to beat his man to the ball and nod it into the path of Naismith, who struck an unstoppable, swerving right-foot shot from 20-yards into the far corner of the net.
It should’ve been 2-0 seven-minutes later. Naismith’s ball over the top found Boyce, who held off his man before seeing his shot blocked by Jack Leighfield, but with the goal at his mercy Lee could only fire clean over.
Craig Gordon had to be alert at the other end, tipping over Willie Gibson’s long-range effort.
The men in maroon doubled their lead bang on half time. Some short, sharp passing culminated with Lee swinging a ball into the box for Boyce to rise and bullet a header beyond Leighfield and into the back of the net.
30 seconds into the restart it was 3-0. White did well to win possession on the halfway line before driving at the Queens defence and crossing to the back door for Boyce to slide in and bag his second, and Hearts’ third, of the afternoon.
With an hour played White again piled forward before middling for Boyce, who took a touch away from his man but saw his low drive saved by Leighfield.
Substitute Elliott Frear’s 65th minute corner was flicked on by Christophe Berra to the unmarked Walker at the back post but he blasted over the target.
The visitors pulled one back on 73 minutes. A free kick was swung into the back post and Obileye ghosted in to touch the ball into the bottom corner.
The Jambos responded by going 4-1 up two minutes later. Boyce’s pass at the edge of the box was missed by Obileye, allowing Walker to latch on and smack a right-foot shot low and past Leighfield.
It became a rout with eight-minutes remaining. Substitute Andy Halliday dinked a ball into the box for Boyce, who showed quick feet to play in Frear and he prodded home from close range.
Boyce was inches away from bagging his hat-trick late on. Frear did well to get on the end of a deep cross into the box to touch it back into the middle but the striker couldn't steer his first-time effort on target.
There was still time for a sixth and it was the returning Ginnelly who carried the ball deep into the Queens half before pulling the trigger and arrowing a low effort into Leighfield's bottom right corner.
A well-deserved win for the Jambos ahead of next week’s Scotish Cup Final against Celtic.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, White (Frear, 61’), Berra, Walker, Lee (Ginnelly, 61’), Boyce, Naismith (Halliday, 74’), Irving, Kingsley, Halkett. Subs: Stewart, Haring, Wighton, Popescu.
Queen of the South: Leighfield, Nortey, Maxwell, Buchanan, Obileye, Fitzpatrick (East, 61’), Pybus, Shields, Dobbie (McKechnie, 65’), McCabe (McGrory, 78’), Gibson. Subs: Ferguson, Goss, Joseph, McMahon.