Hearts tightened their grip on third place in the SPL with a scintillating display as Kilmarnock were brushed aside at Tynecastle.
Two goals from a rejuvenated Calum Elliot and one from Bruno Aguiar were the highlights as the Jambos overwhelmed their opponents in blustery conditions.
Striker Elliot started his first league match of the season and was involved in all three goals during a performance which touched the heights. He was also impeded for a second-half penalty as Kilmarnock’s defence toiled to combat his industrious attacking threat all afternoon.
The visitors began the match looking to dispense with a quite horrible recent league record which had resulted in no wins since a 4-2 victory at Easter Road in December.
However, just eight minutes into this encounter Hearts keeper Janos Balogh was picking the ball out of his net. A textbook cross by Mehdi Taouil to the back post was powered into the net by Danny Invincibile, who evaded Lee Wallace’s attentions.
The goal, in truth, arrived against the run of play with Hearts having started brightly and at a considerably higher tempo than the visitors. The impetus remained with them and Alan Combe, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper, reacted instinctively to palm Andy Driver’s 12th minute volley for a corner. Ten minutes later, he could only parry a Marius Zaliukas flick and Elliot was there to knock in the equaliser.
Seven minutes later, the striker was on cloud nine after putting Hearts in front with a strike that possibly required even more instinct than his first. From Wallace’s through ball into the penalty area, he used the outside of his right boot to prod a one-touch finish into the net and leave Combe rooted to the spot.
Elliot ought to have secured his hat-trick before the interval when David Obua’s perfect left-sided cross somehow eluded both him and Aguiar six yards from goal.
By now Hearts were thriving with Elliot the catalyst for their dominance, but they still had to be mindful of Kilmarnock’s aerial threat. In the closing minutes of the first half Balogh twice stopped headers from the imposing Kevin Kyle, and the second period began with Jim Jefferies reorganising his side by replacing full-back Grant Murray with midfielder William Gibson. The changes had little effect as, four minutes after the restart, Aguiar accentuated Hearts’ superiority with the third goal.
Again Elliot was involved, Driver’s cross landing at the striker’s feet only for Manuel Pascali to block. Aguiar was roaming around the near post and gratefully scooped the loose ball beyond Combe with his left foot.
Ruben Palazuelos nodded over the crossbar before Kilmarnock substitute Ryan O’Leary bundled Elliot to the ground inside the penalty area as both players pursued a long ball. Surprisingly, Aguiar contrived to hit the post with the resultant penalty after Tynecastle natives had demanded for Elliot to take the kick.
Kilmarnock should have afforded themselves greater credibility in terms of the scoreline ten minutes from time with a glaring opportunity. Jamie Hamill’s flighted free-kick was headed across goal by Kyle and O’Leary, with the goal gaping and Balogh out of reach, managed to head wide.
Hearts: Balogh, Neilson, Wallace, Zaliukas, Stewart, Karipidis, Obua, Palazuelous, Elliott, Aguiar, Driver.