In his first home game as Hearts manager, Graham Rix got the result he greatly needed after two unconvincing draws away from home had threatened to derail Hearts’ title bid.
It was a rocky ride at times, as they ran the risk late of losing their 100 per cent home record in the SPL, and should really have put the issue beyond doubt by half-time. The three points took them back to the top of the SPL and gave the first-team coach some breathing space.
The restored league leaders were more like their old selves; the hosts raced out of the blocks in front of a raucous and expectant crowd. The dashing Rudi Skacel bagged a handsome brace with indecent haste but, with Hearts unable to keep the pace up, Livingston threatened to catch them up after combative teenager Allan Walker’s sweet strike revived the visitors’ hopes of an upset.
Rix had requested a “rip-roaring” atmosphere for his home debut and he certainly got that, with the Tynecastle crowd belting out the standard hits before screaming with delight as early as the eighth minute when the inimitable Skacel took a scalpel to the Livingston rearguard, riding one challenge before smashing an unstoppable effort into the top-hand left corner of Ludovic Roy’s net. This after Paul Hartley had a drive saved following Roman Bednar’s impudent backheel.
It took Skacel less time than it took him to notch his first to deliver the second and have the fans acclaiming his talent yet again. Calum Elliot crossed for Skacel to knock it down before lashing a superb low angled drive past the diving goalkeeper. Hearts were ravenous and Richard Brittain almost headed the ball into his own net with a fairly unorthodox clearance.
Livingston’s Paul Tierney was booked for hauling down Saulius Mikoliunas as the Hearts midfielder made for the penalty area, but the subsequent short free kick was botched, and minutes later Mikoliunas blasted a shot just over the crossbar. Julien Brellier was carded for a sliding challenge on Walker and Paul Dalglish might have been rewarded on another day for a spectacular long-ranger that dipped viciously but narrowly over Gordon’s bar.
In the second half, Bednar pulled a shot wide of the post and fell to his knees realising the chance that he had spurned. It was regrettable because when Walker pulled one unexpectedly from the fire, a super drive into the corner of the net from 20 yards, it was game on. From the restart the Hearts fans roared then groaned as Bednar reached Skacel’s over-hit pass only to bash a post from an acute angle.
Bednar was replaced by Michal Pospisil, who also smacked the upright with Roy beaten. Vincze’s curious throw-in incident furthered the drama and with the goal at his mercy at the other end, Hartley dragged wide when he might have put the game to bed.