After a disappointing CIS Cup semi-final defeat to Rangers a few days previously, Hearts showed character to bounce back and stretch their advantage over Kilmarnock to seven points in the race for third place.
Hearts 3, Kilmarnock 0
February 8, 2003
Craig Levein had bemoaned the fact his team had left it until the second half of their semi-final to come alive and, while they were far from dormant in the opening 45 minutes, the manager still had to wait until long after the interval for the breakthrough in this one.
With the exception of Stephane Mahe, who failed to recover from a knock sustained in the cup match, the Hearts manager opted to start the game with the team which had been so sluggish and lacking in self-belief at Hampden in midweek, and it was clear they were in the mood not to allow a repeat of that half-hearted display.
They surged forward with the confidence of a side who believed they could not be beaten. In their minds it was a matter of when, rather than if, with a number of contenders desperate for the honour of breaking the deadlock.
When the goal did come it was from one of the most unlikely sources. Full-back Alan Maybury, now of city rivals Hibs, picked up a sloppy clearance about 30 yards out, took a couple of steps forward and unleashed a blistering low strike into the net. Two minutes later, Phil Stamp drove forward at speed, only to be halted by a foolish challenge from Greig Shields.
The Kilmarnock defender had already been booked for dissent in the first half and was duly sent packing, leaving his side bang up against it.
Given how comfortable Hearts were looking on the ball and with the advantage they held in terms of personnel and scoreline, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Kilmarnock.
A minute later it took on the magnitude of scaling Mount Everest. A high ball into the box should have been an easy catch for Kilmarnock goalkeeper Colin Meldrum but with Mark De Vries breathing down his neck he fumbled and the big Dutchman seized upon the ball. With Meldrum flailing at his feet he calmly stroked the ball into the net. While the first half had been more thrust than cut – the clearer scoring opportunities fell to Kilmarnock, with Kris Boyd and Jamie Fowler blasting narrowly wide from inside the box – the game opened up as soon as the second goal was scored.
Other chances materialised and while the score could have been increased on several occasion, Hearts did Kilmarnock a favour by waiting until the 79th minute to better the scoreline, and it was down to the substitutes.
Kevin McKenna, on for De Vries in the 79th minute, and Steven Boyack, a replacement for Stamp two minutes later, combined, with the big Canadian turning the ball past Meldrum from close range.