Hearts returned to winning ways at Tynecastle as they again reserved their best form for Dundee United.
In the battle between the two clubs most likely to be fighting it out for third position in the SPL and the UEFA Cup place it brings, Hearts were seldom a dominant force.
The victory was the Jambos’ first in the league since they defeated United 2-0 at Tannadice on September 25 and ends a bizarre sequence of losing costly late goals when in winning positions. Colin Cameron and Gary Locke were both suspended, offering Spanish winger Juanjo his chance, while Roddy McKenzie kept his place in goal ahead of Gilles Rousset.
The game’s first attack of note produced the opening goal after Juanjo’s neat lay-off released Stephane Adam for a driving run on the left flank. The Frenchman’s cross was met firmly by Juanjo with enough power and placement to deceive Alan Combe in the United goal and give Hearts an early advantage.
In difficult conditions, a swirling wind making most passes look overhit, both sides struggled to settle and United were slow to muster a genuine response to falling behind.
After 13 minutes, however, they had a penalty claim rejected by referee Hugh Dallas when Stephen McConalogue’s goalward header struck Paul Ritchie.
If Combe was slow for the goal he redeemed himself with two fine saves within a minute just before the half-hour mark, denying first Gary Naysmith and then Scott Severin from long range.
Hearts were the more attacking force by the half-hour mark but were being let down by their unwillingness to shoot as their strikers tended to be over-elaborate in front of goal.
United should have levelled within 40 seconds of the restart after half-time when an Anthony Smith cross somehow found its way to McConalogue at the far post only for the youngster to slide the ball into the side-netting.
Hearts effectively sealed the points on 69 minutes when another Adam run set up Darren Jackson, who produced a chip of stunning quality to wrongfoot Combe and put the home team 2-0 ahead.
Combe was again out of position moments later after clearing the ball for a throw-in and Severin was unfortunate with an audacious effort from 35 yards which drifted wide.
United’s spirit was undimmed, Tassos Venetis dragging a shot wide after 80 minutes, but Hearts finished the more composed and their supremacy was demonstrated with only two minutes remaining when Adam capped an impressive display with a stylish finish after Gary Wales had spotted him in space on the right.
Hearts: McKenzie, Murray, Ritchie, Pressley, Naysmith, Severin, Fulton, Juanjo, Jackson, McSwegan, Adam.