Suffering the mother of all paybacks at Tynecastle last night, Kris Boyd is unlikely to criticise Hearts again for some time.
Ian Cathro’s first win in management came against Kilmarnock just weeks after their veteran striker questioned his appointment and “laptop-style” coaching.
As if to compound Boyd’s frustration, one of Hearts’ goalscorers in a rampant 4-0 victory was Callum Paterson. Boyd boldly stated in early November in a newspaper column that the full-back should be nowhere near the Scotland national team. It seemed he had provided the entire Hearts staff with motivation for this fixture.
The Edinburgh club made a fine job of forcing his words firmly back down his throat. Boyd failed to have any impact on the game, whilst Hearts dominated from the moment Paterson struck the first goal on eight minutes. Cathro insisted that the roof would come off in Gorgie with a positive opening and that’s effectively what happened. Further goals from Arnaud Djoum and two from Jamie Walker completed a convincing scoreline.
As the 30-year-old savoured the first victory of his burgeoning managerial career late into the evening, there was one down point. Paterson was stretchered off shortly after scoring with what appeared to be a knee injury. Hearts and a list of prospective suitors in England will be eagerly awaiting an exact diagnosis of the problem, with the January transfer window preparing to unlock.
Tynecastle was full to capacity for a festive fixture which carried plenty intrigue. Boyd’s recent comments about Cathro’s appointment riled more than a few, although it must be said the Hearts head coach was not one of them. His claim about Paterson’s international suitability was similarly dangerous given the full-back’s scoring threat.
Paterson found the net on Friday evening in Dundee but Cathro was denied a maiden victory in his native city when Hearts surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2. If that was an embarrassing gift, this was the ideal belated Christmas present.
Boyd played from the start – one of three changes by the Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark – and was the target for loud abuse whenever near the ball. Perhaps that’s why Cathro was so convinced the roof would come off early in this game.
The former Scotland striker found himself with an opportunity to silence his critics after only four minutes. Nathan Tyson’s left-sided cross led to a miscued clearance by Hearts defender Igor Rossi. When Boyd prodded the loose ball goalwards, Rossi recovered in time to avert the danger.
Then came the moment Cathro and Hearts needed. Eight minutes in, Kilmarnock cleared Walker’s corner only as far the edge of their penalty area. Paterson was lurking with intent and swung his body for a first-time left-footed volley past Jamie MacDonald and into the bottom corner.
As well as giving his team the lead, the goal was also a firm retort to Boyd’s comments about his international credentials. Moments later, though, Paterson was forced off on a stretcher after colliding with Tyson and falling awkwardly. Liam Smith was the natural replacement at right-back.
Bjorn Johnsen’s diving head flick from another of Walker’s corners would have put the hosts 2-0 ahead but for Martin Smith’s back-post intervention. MacDonald held Walker’s free-kick on the half-hour mark with Hearts looking confident and commanding in possession. There was always the worry of an occasionally disjointed defence to prevent any home supporter feeling too secure.
Three minutes from the interval, the critical second goal did arrive. Smith found an advanced position on the right and spun for a left-footed cross into the box. Djoum ghosted in for the slightest of touches to steer the ball beyond MacDonald. “Boydy, what’s the score?” was the next taunt from the Hearts fans.
It must be said that the veteran forward’s display didn’t exactly strengthen his case. He struggled to hold possession or link up with any midfielder or winger in blue and white. That remained the case into the second half, which was merely three minutes old when Hearts put the final result firmly beyond doubt.
Following a corner, Prince Buaben’s power-packed shot from 20 yards was parried by MacDonald, but only into Walker’s path. The winger wasted no time in dispatching a crisp finish into the net and set off to celebrate. He took plenty acclaim but Tynecastle erupted just as loudly when Boyd was substituted nine minutes later.
Hearts carved out further chances as the second half progressed. MacDonald’s save at point-blank range denied Krystian Nowak, who again stood out in a defensive midfield berth. Walker then capitalised on some erratic defending to round his former team-mate before being tackled in the act of shooting by Iain Wilson. Finally, the fourth came. William Boyle’s woeful backpass acted as a tee-up for Walker, who eyeballed MacDonald and stroked the ball home.
Nowak showed excellent control and quick feet to touch a loose ball and bend a shot off MacDonald’s left post inside the final ten minutes. Souleymane Coulibaly – Kilmarnock’s most creative player who was starved of service for most of the night – then cleared Nowak’s header off his own goal line to prevent a fifth.
The Moroccan full-back Faycal Rherras was denied a goal on his return to the Hearts starting line-up by an offside flag. Indeed, the final stage of this game amounted to little more than target practice for those in maroon. A stoppage-time penalty was awarded when Hearts substitute Dario Zanatta tumbled inside the penalty area, but MacDonald sprung to his left for a superb save to deny the young Canadian from the spot.
Then came the final whistle to confirm a resounding first success for Cathro – on a night his nemesis Boyd is unlikely to forget.
Hearts: Hamilton; Paterson (L Smith 14), Souttar, Rossi, Rherras; Nowak; Buaben (Muirhead 65), Kitchen, Walker (Zanatta 77); Djoum; Johnsen. Unused subs: Noring, Ozturk, Sammon, Watt.
Kilmarnock: MacDonald; Taylor, Wilson, Boyle (Webb 72), S Smith; Dicker, M Smith (Hawkshaw 56); Coulibaly, Adams, Tyson; Boyd (Jones 56). Unused subs: Bojaj, Frizzell, Innes, Mackay.
Referee: C Thomson