Hearts were worthy victors at Stark’s Park this evening after beating Raith Rovers 4-0.
Relentless from first whistle to last, the Jambos completely controlled the game and were rewarded with three points thanks to goals from Liam Boyce, Euan Henderson and an Armand Gnanduillet brace, with Regan Hendry seeing red for the hosts.
Robbie Neilson made three changes to the side that narrowly lost to Rovers only three days ago. Mihai Popescu replaced the injured Christophe Berra, Jamie Walker came in for Steven Naismith and Josh Ginnelly started ahead of Elliott Frear. Meanwhile, there was a place on the bench for new signing Gnanduillet.
The Jambos started on the front foot and dictated play. With 12 minutes on the clock Popescu danced away from two blue shirts in the middle of the park to chip a delightful ball into the box for Walker, who took a touch into the six-yard box before seeing his low drive beaten away by the legs of Jamie MacDonald.
Hearts threatened again moments later with Craig Halkett meeting Andy Irving’s corner but he could only head over from close range.
After only 16 minutes Hearts were dealt a blow when Ginnelly was forced off through injury, with Henderson replacing him on the right.
Not to be deterred the Jambos immediately went on the offensive with Walker pouncing on a loose pass inside the box to beat the onrushing MacDonald to the ball, but although he rounded the keeper he could only fire into the side net from a tight angle.
Another defensive mix-up, mere moments later, saw Mackay-Steven given two attempts to get a cross into the box. His second attempt found Boyce but his close-range prod was well blocked by MacDonald.
A quick breakaway on the half hour mark almost saw the deadlock broken. Walker’s headed clearance from a Raith corner found Mackay- Steven, who darted into the opposition half before slipping through Henderson. The youngster tore into the Raith box but, under pressure from the retreating Regan Tumilty, blasted well over the bar.
With nine minutes of the half remaining Hearts got the breakthrough they so richly deserved. Boyce weaved his way towards the opposition box before exchanging a neat one-two with Michael Smith and then smashing an unstoppable effort beyond MacDonald and into the back of the net.
Andy Halliday then passed up a brace of chances to extend Hearts’ lead. Boyce threaded the midfielder through but his shot from inside the box was beaten away by MacDonald. With the chance still alive Smith crossed into the box and a wayward header fell to Halliday, who wrapped his foot around the ball but was again denied by MacDonald.
The second goal did then come and it was another for the visitors. Walker’s corner was flicked on at the near post by Boyce into the path of Henderson, who was in the right place at the right time to nod home from close range.
The drama continued before the half was out with Raith’s Hendry shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Halliday.
Remarkably, there was still time for another Hearts chance before half time. Halliday’s brilliant defence-splitting pass found Boyce, who darted into the box but his low blast was held by MaDonald.
The Jambos continued where they left off after the restart. Halkett’s ball into the box was knocked down by Boyce into the path of Walker and his snapshot was pushed around the post by MacDonald.
The opportunities kept coming, with Irving playing an inch-perfect pass through for Boyce to run on to, and although he was forced wide inside the box he squared it to Mackay-Steven but the winger shanked his effort well wide of the target.
A neat switch of play saw Mackay-Steven curve his run to the edge of the Raith box before pulling the trigger only to see Boyce deflect it inches wide of MacDonald’s right-hand post.
New signing Gnanduillet was introduced on the hour mark, replacing Boyce, and he nearly made an instant impact when he connected with Makay-Steven’s cross but he couldn’t steer his header away from MacDonald.
Hearts continued their relentless assault on Raith’s goal. Halkett was next up, sending a looping header goalward from Irving’s free-kick but MacDonald made a comfortable save on his line.
A third goal came with six minutes left on the clock and it was for the debutant. Walker stole possession on the left to cut inside and force a save from MacDonald but the second ball broke to Gnanduillet who stabbed home from six-yards.
Bang on full time it was 4-0 and it was that man Gnanduillet again. Walker’s corner was swung in and the big striker rose highest to power a header into the opposite corner of the net.
Raith Rovers: MacDonald, Tumility, MacDonald, Benedictus, Armstrong (Ross, 76’), Hendry, Vaughan (Tait, 61’), Spencer, Musonda, Kennedy, Duku (Davidson, 70’). Subs: Thomson, Mendy, Coulson, Arnott.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Walker, Boyce (Gnanduillet, 60’), Halliday, Mackay-Steven (Naismith, 68’), Irving, Kingsley, Halkett, Popescu, Ginnelly (Henderson, 16’). Subs: Stewart, White, Haring, Frear.