After two unconvincing draws on the road, Hearts got themselves back on track and won for the first time under Graham Rix with the three points taking them back to the top of the SPL.
Rudi Skacel, who had looked out of sorts in games before this one, took little time in showing he had regained both his fitness and his hunger for goal. In the eighth minute the midfielder gained possession some 35 yards out. The fact he had team-mates available divided the attention of the Livingston defence, and he twisted his way round three of them before blasting home a left-foot shot from just inside the box.
Skacel’s second effort was simpler but no less deadly. Picking up a ball from the left by Calum Elliot, he made space for himself with his first touch, then slammed the ball past Ludovic Roy with his second. The visiting goalkeeper had a double save from Elliot and Saulius Mikoliunas a minute later, and if he had not made that the contest would have been over there and then.
But Livingston were far more resilient than they had been when Hearts ripped them apart at Almondvale earlier in the season, and they gradually clawed their way back into contention. Rix told the home team at half-time that a third goal would kill off the game, and its failure to materialise from several decent chances spurred on the SPL’s bottom club. Just after the hour, Allan Walker’s shot from outside the box eluded Craig Gordon and ended up in the corner of the net, and suddenly Hearts had a game on their hands.
Their response was immediate, with Roman Bednar hitting a post, Skacel just shooting past and then Elliot heading over. Michal Pospisil then came on as a substitute.
Although axed by Rix after just 45 minutes in the previous match against Aberdeen, the head coach had stressed there had been no fall-out between the pair and as if to emphasise that point brought him on for the last 13 minutes for the tiring Bednar.
With almost his first touch, Pospisil came close to scoring. He latched on to a through ball and turned and shot in one movement, only to see his snapshot go wide.
Shortly afterwards – with 85 minutes on the clock – the former Czech Republic Under-21 star almost scored what would surely have been a contender for goal of the season. when he attempted an outrageous shot from a ridiculous angle on the right-hand touchline.
A stunned Roy was beaten all ends up as the ball drifted over his head towards the far corner, but Pospisil was denied a famous goal by the woodwork, his effort coming back off the inside off the right-hand post and rebounding to safety.
It would have been a spectacular finale to the afternoon, but ultimately Rix was just relieved to have his first win tucked away at the first time of asking at Tynecastle.
However, Hearts nearly paid for their profligacy when Gabor Vincze’s throw-in found its way into the net, but referee Alan Freeland ruled that the ball had not touched anyone else and it was therefore a goal kick rather than a goal.
There was time in the few moments remaining for Paul Hartley and Pospisil to miss further chances to put the issue beyond doubt, but 2-1 it stayed.
Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, Fyssas, Pressley, Webster, Hartley, Mikoliunas, Brellier, Elliot, Skacel, Bednar.