NO-ONE could doubt the ability of Hearts to drag themselves from the face of adversity – Craig Levein was left bewildered, his side coming from behind to salvage a point with only ten minutes remaining.
For the second away match running (two weeks previously they’d grabbed a draw thanks to an injury-time equaliser at East End Park), Hearts came back from what appeared to be a perilous position to steal another precious point.
Although there wasn’t much to choose between the teams during a low key first-half when both sides struggled to keep their feet on a poor playing surface, Hearts sneaked an advantage thanks to Stephane Mahe’s first goal for the club.
The former Celtic full-back took up more of an attacking role on the left of Hearts’ 3-5-2 formation and caused the home side a few problems by cutting inside from the flank. The Frenchman forced Gordon Marshall to make an instinctive save and had a crisp shot ruled out for offside before putting the visitors in front after 39 minutes. Sprinting forward on his favoured left side, Mahe switched on to his right-foot and may even have surprised himself by firing an explosive shot past Marshall.
Within six minutes of the restart, Hearts had undone 45 minutes of good work and were on the rack.
While Ally Mitchell did well within 60 seconds to deliver a cross to the near post, Hearts’ concentration was switched off as the impressive Craig Dargo nipped in front of Andy Webster to stab home Kilmarnock’s equaliser.
Tommy Johnson then won a soft free-kick after bumping into Kevin McKenna and did the necessary from inside the penalty box after Stephen Murray’s cross was knocked back across goal by Peter Canero. All of this unfolded as the Hearts defence appeared to be moving through treacle.
When the visitors failed to deal properly with a short corner 15 minutes later and the lively Murray sent a swerving cross from the right into the top corner of Antti Niemi’s goal, it looked as if Kilmarnock would go on to give Hearts a real pounding.
It was true he had little to lose, but Levein’s response was ruthless.
He dismantled his back three, taking off Andy Webster, sending Kevin McKenna to play up front and partnering Steven Pressley with Scott Severin, who dropped back from midfield, and Mahe, who moved inside from wing-back.
Having stopped the haemorrhaging in defence, the young coach added stability in midfield with the introduction of Tommi Gronlund and ebullience going forward thanks to the contributions from teenagers Paul McMullan and Graham Weir. A ball over the top was only diverted by Garry Hay into Weir’s path before Marshall brought down the Hearts forward.
It was a clear penalty, but with no spot-kick expert on the pitch it was left to Pressley to accept the captain’s responsibility and whack the ball into the net for his first goal of the season.
Sensing something improbable was now on the cards, Hearts surged forward again, Weir made space with a knock-back from the edge of the box and Gronlund’s 20-yard shot took a deflection away from Marshall into the corner of the net.
It was a hectic finale to a breathless second half.
Kilmarnock 3-3 Hearts
February 16 2002