A LATE winning goal from Adam Eckersley put Hearts nine points clear at the top of the Championship.
The visitors toiled to break down Alloa’s well organised defence but, four minutes from the end, Adam Eckersley’s free-kick squeezed through a posse of bodies and landed in the bottom corner of the net.
The goal brought much relief for the visitors after a plucky and resilient display by Alloa. Hearts delivered one of their poorest performances of the season but showed they were able to grind out a result when necessary. Alloa’s part-time players gave everything and no-one could have quibbled had they taken a draw, but Eckersley’s late free-kick settled this game via a slight deflection.
Alloa cleverly fashioned the first clear chance early in the match when Stephen Simmons’ high ball into the Hearts penalty box was beautifully cushioned into Kevin Cawley’s path by Greig Spence. Cawley’s attempted first-time volley spun wide but it was a clear sign of the hosts’ intent. Their aggressive pressing game was denying the visitors any time in possession, whilst quick balls up towards Spence were problematic.
A flowing move by Hearts on 26 minutes produced their first attempt at Craig McDowall’s goal. Billy King’s pass inside was back-heeled by Osman Sow through for Dale Carrick to hit on the run. The ball rolled just wide of the post. Alim Ozturk sent a free-kick over the crossbar moments later before Jamie Walker lashed a 20-yard shot off the post.
Hearts took confidence from that but Alloa finished the first half strongest. Following a superb through ball by Graeme Holmes, the away goalkeeper Neil Alexander had to save at the feet of Cawley in a one-on-one situation to keep the scoreline blank.
Sow sent a glaring chance over the crossbar from King’s cutback just before the hour mark. Prince Buaben then unleashed a 25-yard shot which bent away from goal. Despite introducing substitutes Sam Nicholson, Callum Paterson and Soufian El Hassnaoui, the visitors were still toiling to break through Alloa’s stubborn resistance.
They also had to concern themselves with Alloa’s attacking threat. Ryan McCord and substitute Eddie Ferns sent shots narrowly wide of each post inside 60 seconds as the arrival of the closing stages saw play open up. Barry Smith’s team were every inch the equal of Hearts but they conceded with four minutes remaining which ultimately cost them a point.
Eckersley’s left-footed free-kick angled into the penalty area but missed almost everybody and landed in the far corner of the net. There was a slight deflection on the ball as it bounced around five yards out but that didn’t bother Hearts.
They claimed three vital points from a scrappy game to extend their lead over Rangers at the top of the league. They also set a new points record of 25 from nine games in the ten-team Championship.
Alloa (4-4-2): McDowall; Doyle, Gordon, Benedictus, Docherty; McCord, Simmons, Holmes, Cawley; Spence, Buchanan.
54: Ferns for Spence
Unused subs: Tiffoney, Meggatt, Marr, Hetherington, Ashgar, Couser.
Hearts (4-4-2): Alexander; McGhee, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley; King, Buaben, Gomis, Walker; Carrick, Sow.
46: Nicholson for Carrick
51: Paterson for McGhee
72: El Hassnaoui for Walker
Unused subs: Hamilton, McHattie, Holt, Pallardo.
Referee: Calum Murray.
Scorers: Hearts - Eckersley (86).