HEARTS were some way below their best but as they had done on several occasions in this season, they still had enough to see off determined opponents.
Hearts 1 (Jankauskas) Kilmarnock 0
October 26, 2005
A first-half strike by Edgaras Jankauskas was the difference between the teams, as Hearts went 12 consecutive league matches without defeat and continued to lead the Bank of Scotland Premier League.
The suspension of captain Steven Pressley and the absence through injury of fellow Scotland internationalist Paul Hartley meant that the interim manager, John McGlynn, had to make at least two enforced changes but in the event he decided more were required. Christophe Berra was a straight replacement at centre-back for Pressley but the loss of Hartley, the team’s principal playmaker, led to a reshuffling of the midfield quartet.
Rudi Skacel was moved into the centre, Deividas Cesnauskis filled the Czech’s wide-right berth, Jamie McAllister played wide left, and Julien Brellier retained his anchor role. It was a fairly subdued home crowd which digested those changes before kick-off, and Steven Naismith came close to really dampening the atmosphere in the opening minute with a drive which goalkeeper Craig Gordon did well to touch behind.
At the other end, Graeme Smith was twice called on to save from McAllister. The second effort, direct from a free-kick, rebounded close to Andy Webster, who had a penalty claim rejected after a clash of bodies prevented him reaching the ball. Midway through the half Hearts had a stronger appeal for a spot-kick rejected when the referee failed to see Kris Boyd’s tug on the jersey of Michal Pospisil.
The Edinburgh side were looking less composed than normal during the first half-hour or so, but nine minutes before half-time Jankauskas settled their nerves with a sweetly-struck shot to open the scoring. Takis Fyssas began the move with a pass down the left to Skacel, who from just inside the Kilmarnock half curled an inch-perfect pass into the path of the striker. Jankauskas steadied himself, allowed the ball one bounce, and then slammed it past Smith for his second league goal of the season.
Hearts played with greater self-assuredness for the rest of the half, but were a touch fortunate to go in at the interval a goal up after an error by Andy Webster. The Scotland centre-back allowed a hopeful chip to go beyond him into the penalty box, and had Steven Naismith been a few inches taller he would surely have done better than glance a header straight into the arms of Gordon.
There was one change at half-time. Referee Stuart Dougal was taken unwell, so was replaced by the fourth official, Stevie O’Reilly.
Despite facing a strengthening wind, Kilmarnock began the second half more brightly. Fifteen minutes in, it was their turn to have a penalty claim denied, when a shot by Danny Invincibile came off Webster’s hand. McGlynn brought Samuel Camazzola on for Cesnauskis in a bid to shore up the right flank, but the home team had lost much of their shape, as indeed had the match as a whole.
Kilmarnock remained combative, showing no sign of being overawed, but had they shown some guile to go with their grit, the game would have been a more pleasing contest. With just over a quarter of an hour to play, Webster volleyed over from a Skacel corner. A second goal at that stage would have killed the game off but Hearts could not find a second touch of class to emulate Skacel’s killer pass in the first half. In stoppage time, McAllister should have added a second, but slid his shot wide after a Pospisil effort had rebounded to him off Smith.