HEARTS produced a solid retort after their first league defeat by winning at Alloa to go 16 points clear at the top of the Scottish Championship.
A stunning 30-yarder from Miguel Pallardo, a well-executed second from James Keatings, a solo goal by Jamie Walker and a Callum Paterson header secured victory.
With Rangers inactive, the result allowed the Edinburgh club to extend their lead at the top of the table. Greig Spence reduced the deficit to 2-1 with Alloa’s only goal just after the hour mark but Walker’s third settled the outcome. Rangers have two games in hand on Hearts at present but are in cup action this weekend and next.
Hearts, seeking a response to last week’s 3-2 loss against Falkirk, recalled Keatings, Pallardo and Alim Oxturk to the starting line-up.
Within five minutes the strength of their reaction was clear. Pallardo collected a pass, steadied himself and dispatched a swerving drive from 30 yards into the top corner of Alloa’s net.
It was a sublime way to open his scoring account for the Edinburgh club.
Minutes later, Stephen Simmons scampered on to a through pass and ought to have equalised one on one with the Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
Simmons rolled a left-footed shot off the inside of the post before Paterson hoofed the ball to safety. Alloa were made to rue that wastefulness when Keatings doubled the visitors’ advantage in the 12th minute.
The diminutive striker wriggled free of two opponents and planted a precise angled shot into the bottom corner of the net from around 18 yards. With that, the notion arrived that this game may well be over as a contest. Craig McDowall, the Alloa goalkeeper, pushed Ozturk’s free-kick over his crossbar to prevent a third goal before the 20-minute mark and then held Osman Sow’s shot on the turn.
Alloa were probing occasionally and appealed for a penalty when Simmons fell under close attention from Pallardo. Referee Stephen Finnie let play continue.
At the opposite end, Keatings lashed a free-kick off the crossbar from 25 yards as the interval approached.
Hearts continued attacking at the start of the second half but conceded on 61 minutes when striker Spence headed Mark Docherty’s cross beyond Alexander from close range.
Alloa clearly believed the end result was not a foregone conclusion, although they had a lucky escape when referee Finnie denied Hearts a penalty as Sow was bundled over by Ben Gordon inside the box.
Just a minute later Walker restored the visitors’ two-goal advantage. The winger set off on a solo run past two defenders and into the box before prodding his finish beneath McDowall.
The game began petering out but there was enough life left in Paterson to head substitute Billy King’s corner into the corner of the net for a fourth goal.
Hearts (4-3-1-2): Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley; Buaben, Pallardo, Gomis, Walker; Keatings, Sow.
69: Zeefuik for Sow
84: King for Walker
89: Oliver for Keatings
Unused subs: Gallacher, Nicholson, McKay, McGhee.
Alloa (5-3-2): McDowall; Doyle, Gordon, Benedictus, Meggat, Docherty; Holmes, Simmons, McCord; Spence, Buchanan.
60: Layne for Holmes.
60: Martin for Buchanan.
Unused subs: Marr, Tiffoney, Cawley, Hetherington, Gibson.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.