Maroon Memories: Double delight for supersub Stephen Elliott

Stephen Elliott was brought on at half-time. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Stephen Elliott was brought on at half-time. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A double from Irish striker Stephen Elliott earned Hearts three vital SPL points at Rugby Park as they strengthened their grip on third place in the table.

A double from Irish striker Stephen Elliott earned Hearts three vital SPL points at Rugby Park as they strengthened their grip on third place in the table.

This victory sent the Jambos 11 points clear of their opponents who sat in fourth, a sizeable advantage which allowed the Tynecastle club to maintain their belief that a third-place finish at least could be achieved.

The visitors started the brighter of the two sides, although the hosts broke the dedalock after 19 minutes.

Killie were given a boost before kick-off with the news that top goalscorer Conor Sammon had turned down the prospect of a move to England, but having spent most of the week travelling, manager Mixi Paatelainen opted to leave him on the bench.

This afforded Portuguese forward Rui Miguel the chance of a start and he broke a period of Hearts domination to put the home side in front with a well-placed shot past Marian Kello. The provider was Kilmarnock’s playmaker Alexei Eremenko, who dispossessed Ian Black to set up his team-mate.

Visiting striker Kevin Kyle was a favourite with the supporters at Rugby Park during his time there but injury prevented Hearts boss Jim Jefferies from fielding him on his return.

Absent, too, was fellow forward Calum Elliot while Ryan Stevenson was a substitute as Lee Wallace, David Obua and David Templeton were given starts.

Templeton played in a deeper role, Jefferies no doubt hoping he could use his pace to run at Killie’s backline. That tactic left Obua in a lone striking role but, although Hearts got a good grip of the game in midfield for long periods, the Ugandan was left isolated with little supply.

The Jambos’ best chance of the first half came in 32 minutes when Ismael Bouzid flashed a header by the post, getting in front of his marker to knock it a fraction past from an inswinging Black corner.

Black had the chance to test home keeper Cammy Bell with the free-kick from Templeton’s felling but his weak effort was deflected out for a corner.

Jefferies introduced Elliott for Arvydas Novikovas at half-time and his patience had expired by the hour mark when he brought on Gary Glen and Stevenson for Obua and Black.

Such boldness paid off when former Preston striker Elliott levelled the match with 17 minutes remaining, a clinical finish into the corner of the net from 12 yards that gave Bell no chance.

As the match hung in the balance, Bell made a mess of saving a shot from substitute Elliott and was horrified as the ball squirmed across the line.

Killie had one late chance to take their unbeaten record to seven, but Kello made a terrific save from Garry Hay’s powerful free-kick.

Hearts: Kello, Jonsson, Wallace, Bouzid, Mrowiec, Zaliukas, Templeton, Black, Obua, Palazuelos, Novikovas