HEARTS remain unbeaten in the Scottish Championship after an ultimately convincing win over Queen of the South at Tynecastle.
However, it must they said they were made to work for the three points by their visitors from Dumfries.
Goals from James Keatings, Danny Wilson, Prince Buaben and Adam Eckersley eventually saw Hearts win comfortably. Buaben missed a first-half penalty and Iain Rusell had levelled the match at 1-1 early in the second half. The hosts looked rattled at that stage, however goals from Wilson and Buaben settled the nerves and Eckersley added a classy fourth for good measure.
Hearts started purposefully with early efforts at goal from Alim Ozturk, Callum Paterson and Keatings. Teenager Robbie Buchanan was making his first start, whilst Wilson and Buaben were back in the starting line-up. The captain watched Queen of the South go close on 13 minutes when Kevin Holt’s looping header from Ian McShane’s corner landed on the roof of the net. Then McShane’s low free-kick curled across the box begging to be converted before arcing wide of target.
The hosts may have been spurred on by those frights as they opened the scoring seconds later. A long pass forward by Wilson was misjudged by Mark Durnan, who allowed the ball to drop in behind him. Keatings’ instinct saw him gamble on the dropping ball and he reacted in an instant to lash it over goalkeeper Alex Clark from around 20 yards with a sweet left-footed finish.
Buaben wasted a chance to double the advantage from the penalty spot minutes later. Andy Dowie was penalised for impeding Paterson at a corner, but the Ghanaian’s penalty struck the post and bounced clear. Then Walker went on a dribbling run and beat Clark with a left-footed shot, only for Durnan to clear the danger.
The high tempo was relentless from Hearts as they pursued a second goal before the interval. That led to some late tackles and flashpoints involving both players. The biggest came on the stroke off half-time after Miguel Pallardo challenged Russell, with Buaben needlessly getting involved with some of the opposition.
Queen of the South made the stronger start to the second period. On 52 minutes, the Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander produced an important stop to deny the influential McShane from distance before holding a free-kick from the same player. The visitors got their equaliser moments later, however.
McShane burst towards the penalty area and was ajudged to have been fouled by Jamie Walker just inside the box. Referee Craig Charleston pointed to the spot as Hearts players protested that the offence took place before the 18-yard line. Nonetheless, Russell made no mistake with the penalty, ramming the ball to Alexander’s right.
Hearts had Alexander to thank for keeping parity on 64 minutes. Chris Higgins met McShane’s corner with a thunderous header but the goalkeeper produced an instinctive stop, before substitute Scott Robinson cleared. They promptly went up the other end and restored their advantage.
Keatings’ corner swung in towards the six yard line, missed Ozturk and struck Wilson before landing in the net. The captain knew little about it but that didn’t stop him sprinting off to celebrate.
Although Queen of the South continued pressing, Buaben secured the three points with Hearts’ third goal 16 minutes from time. He collected a pass on the right of the penalty area and turned two defenders in impressive fashion before dispatching a strong low shot beyond Clark.
There was time for a fourth from Eckersley on the break. Billy King scampered forward at lightning pace and, upon entering the penalty box, backheeled for Eckersley to slot the ball high into the net. It was a fine way to round off a largely enjoyable afternoon for the Tynecastle support. They also witnessed the senior debut of another teenager, Nathan Flanagan, as substitute before celebrating their team staying nine points clear at the top of the Scottish Championship.
Hearts (4-4-2): Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley; Walker, Buaben, Pallardo, King; Buchanan, Keatings.
62: Robinson for Buchanan
76: McGhee for Walker
87: Flanagan for Keatings
Unused subs: Gallacher, El Hassnaoui, McKay, McKirdy, Flanagan.
Queen of the South: (4-5-1): Clark; Dowie, Durnan, Higgins, Holt; Kidd, Dzierzawski, McShane, Kerr, Russell; Reilly.
46: Lyle for Kerr
71: Baird for Dzierzawski
79: Carmichael for Reilly
Unused subs: Atkinson, Fowler, Hooper, Paton.
Referee: Craig Charleston.
Scorers: Hearts - Keatings (20), Wilson (67), Buaben (74), Eckersley (79). Queen of the South - Russell (56 pen).