WHEN it comes to knocking the stuffing out of rival teams, Hearts were becoming something akin to specialists.
Pre-match and at half-time, the air was filled with radio re-runs of derby commentaries, where last gasp winners and never-say-die fightbacks seemed to have become part and parcel of the Tynecastle package.
Hearts responded to their Scottish Cup 4-0 hammering away to Falkirk the previous weekend in the best possible manner, as they repaid their supporters with a comfortable victory which tightened their grip on third place in the table.
While another late winner would have sufficed, it would have been inadvisable for Hearts to let the tension build inside Tynecastle when memories of the Brockville debacle were still so fresh in the mind, which is possibly why they exhaled with a collective sigh of relief when Scott Severin chose the last minute of the first half rather than the second to open the scoring and plump up a one-goal cushion Dunfermline would never claw back.
For 45 minutes both teams had failed to settle and the long-range efforts were indicative of the midfield skirmish that was trying to serve as a match.
Dunfermline only began to chase the game at 2-0 down after Gary Wales had scored two minutes after the break. More aggressive and driven, they bore down on goal with more intent than they had mustered in the opening gambits. And while that passion had its positive connotations, it also led to the premature departure of Scott Wilson, who added one reckless challenge to earlier dissent to secure two bookings and a red card in the 80th minute.
From the outset there was a sense that the hosts were desperate to win, and while genuine chances were as rare around Derek Stillie’s goal as they were at the other end of the field, there were certainly more players lining up for a pot-shot.
Phil Stamp was one of the first to fire in a shot that narrowly missed the target, followed by Jean-Louis Valois, Kevin McKenna – playing up front in the absence of Mark De Vries – Wales and Alan Maybury before the first 44 minutes had elapsed. Dunfermline’s tally was paltry in comparison.
When the first goal came there was a quick ball back into the area from Valois that looked as though it would fly across the face of goal until Severin darted in at the back post and ducked to head past Stillie.
Two minutes after the break and an embarrassing tangle between Wilson, Lee Bullen and Stillie finally saw the ball break to the feisty Wales, who stabbed it into the net. That goal gave the match the kiss of life it needed, but it would have taken more than a bit of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive Dunfermline’s hopes. Stamp almost made it three but his header was palmed over by Stillie.
Captain for the day, Stevie Crawford almost reduced the deficit in 65 minutes but Tepi Moilanen blocked and ten minutes later he made sure he had earned his win bonus with a stunning close-range save from Craig Brewster. Clear-cut chances they may have been, but no more genuine than those mustered by Hearts, the best coming from Stamp, who cracked a fierce drive off the crossbar. The best, that is, until McKenna made it 3-0.
It was the result of more calamity cuts from Dunfermline, with a simple clearance clattering off Wales and ricocheting to the Canadian.