ON a day when Tynecastle paid respect to those who died in World War I, the result seemed almost secondary.
Nonetheless, Alim Ozturk’s decisive goal was not only spectacular again but also crucial to Hearts’ title aspirations.
The Turk strode forward after just five minutes to unleash a swerving drive from 30 yards which evaded the Raith goalkeeper David McGurn and landed in the net. It was perhaps not quite as good as his last-gasp equaliser against Hibs but neither was it far off. The defender had another stunning goal to treasure, which became all the more important as it secured three points.
Pre-match events included a performance by the Royal Scots Pipe Band before 22 mascots emerged with the two teams. Emotion filled the air during a minute’s silence prior to kick-off, but once the action got underway Hearts quickly got down to business and were ahead by the fifth minute.
The goal was another raking drive from Ozturk following his 40-yard drive at Easter Road two weeks ago. This time, he settled for a 30-yarder. Ambling forward inside the Raith Rovers half, he unleashed a dipping effort which flew past McGurn in the visitors’ goal. McGurn seemed to be caught off guard but could have done better given the distance the ball travelled.
Ozturk arced a 25-yard free-kick wide of target just before the quarter-hour mark. Billy King squandered a chance to double Hearts’ advantage when he ran the ball out of play after being sent through one on one with McGurn.
Raith came closest to testing Neil Alexander on 30 minutes when Paul Watson’s back header from Grant Anderson’s cross landed just over the goalkeeper’s crossbar. Hearts looked comfortable throughout the first half although, with Osman Sow absent, they didn’t fashion many clear chances.
The second period saw rain continue pouring into Tynecastle, making for a slick surface and an ever-quickening game. Raith sensed this encounter was far from over but they first had to break Hearts’ rhythm before they could threaten.
In an effort to spark some creativity, the Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson introduced substitutes James Keatings and Jason Holt. Raith’s attack needed the presence of Christian Nade but the former Hearts forward remained on the bench having just recovered from an ankle injury. Instead, Mark Stewart replaced Barrie McKay to as the away fans jeered the decision to sub McKay.
Alexander held Calum Elliot’s header from a free-kick and then an effort on the turn from Stewart. Nerves were evident inside Tynecastle as the closing stages of the match approached. They weren’t helped when left-back Adam Eckersley limped off and left Hearts with ten men having used all three substitutes.
Raith threw players into attack and almost equalised through Liam Fox. He collected Alexander’s wayward kickout and tried a shot from 40 yards which the goalkeeper had to save acrobatically. However, Hearts closed the match out to take three vital points and maintain their unbeaten league record.
Hearts (4-4-2): Alexander; McGhee, Ozturk, McKay, Eckersley; Buaben, Gomis; King, Nicholson, Walker; El Hassnaoui.
53: Keatings for El Hassnaoui
61: Holt for Nicholson
78: Buchanan for Walker
Unused subs: Gallacher, McHattie, McKirdy, Pallardo.
Raith (4-4-1-1): McGurn; Thomson, Watson, Perry, McKeown; McKay, Fox, Moon, Anderson; Scott; Elliot.
67: Stewart for McKay
78: Conroy for Moon
Unused subs: Laidlaw, Hill, Callachan, Vaughan, Nade.
Referee: Crawford Allan.