Hearts continued their excellent home form with a win which kept them in third place ahead of Dunfermline on goal difference.
The Gorgie side had taken 13 points from a possible 15 at home and although the performance fell a little short of some of Hearts’ better displays, they did the job.
The afternoon started with a scare for the Gorgie club after just 35 seconds when Kevin McKenna required extensive treatment after a clash with Steven Thompson, but thankfully for Hearts he was able to carry on. With 18 minutes on the clock, the visitors carved out the first opportunity when there was confusion in the Hearts defence as Steven Pressley and McKenna challenged for the same ball, allowing Thompson to nip in, but his effort was straight at Roddy McKenzie.
With Scotland boss Berti Vogts watching, Pressley was having a shakier afternoon than usual and was fortunate not to be punished three minutes later. The Hearts captain lost the ball midway inside his own half and Charlie Miller almost capitalised as he drove powerfully at the Hearts defence, but his shot did not match the determined build-up and he screwed his effort wide.
Hearts’ first real chance came with 23 minutes played when a teasing Scott Severin cross from the left was only just missed by Mark de Vries inside the box as he threw himself full length in a bid to connect.
Two minutes later, though, the Jambos did manage to put the ball in the back of the net. Steven Boyack, who was having a productive afternoon down the right flank, swung over a cross for De Vries and although the towering Dutchman did connect this time, he badly miscued his shot. Fortunately for the former Dordrecht striker the ball fell kindly for Jean-Louis Valois, who opened his Hearts account with a drilled, left-foot shot.
United should have equalised ten minutes before the interval when Stuart Duff released Charlie Miller through on goal with a perfectly executed pass. However, the former Rangers player took too long and allowed McKenzie to race from his line and smother the ball at Miller’s feet.
After the interval, Valois was in full flow and he tormented the United defence with his full array of skills.
With five minutes of the half played, he sliced open the United defence with a perfectly timed pass to Andy Kirk, but although the striker was able to find a way round Paul Gallacher, the angle was too tight and he shot into the side-netting.
A second Hearts goal was only delayed for five minutes, though, and it was to prove a nightmare for Alex Smith’s side. They had marshalled De Vries reasonably well throughout the game but left the big striker totally unmarked from Boyack’s corner and were punished as he volleyed home his eighth goal in seven games.
Kirk did try his best to claim the strike, but it looked as though de Vries’ effort had already crossed the line by the time he got a foot to it.