HEARTS began their bottom six fixtures with a narrow win at Rugby Park as John Sutton justified his recall to the starting line-up with the game’s only goal.
Scorers: Hearts: Sutton (5)
Ref: Calum Murray
The striker’s stroked finish from Michael Ngoo’s low cross early in the match secured victory despite Ryan Stevenson’s missed penalty in the second half.
The visitors delivered an excellent display of passing football in the first half, inspired by youngsters Jason Holt and Jamie Walker. Sutton, having influenced Hearts’ comeback against Ross County two weeks ago, broke the deadlock after only five minutes after being reinstated by manager Gary Locke.
Cameron Bell, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper, saved what was a poor penalty from Stevenson after Walker was fouled inside the penalty area. The hosts pressed forward in numbers during the second period and had numerous shots on goal, however they often landed well off target.
The game started brightly for Hearts with Sutton justifying his selection after only five minutes. Stevenson’s raking pass to Michael Ngoo allowed the Englishman to cut inside his marker, Mohamadou Sissoko, and roll the ball across goal. Sutton was lurking around five yards out for a straightforward tap-in near the back post.
The goalscorer shot high into the stand on 22 minutes after again being teed up by Ngoo, and Walker headed a Jamie Hamill cross narrowly wide. There was no denying Hearts’ dominance at the midway point of the first half as their ball retention left Kilmarnock second best. Walker and Holt were involved in most of their passing moves.
Kilmarnock didn’t threaten properly until the 33rd minute when Jeroen Tesselaar’s cutback was fired goalwards by Paul Heffernan, only for Kevin McHattie to intervene with a well-timed sliding block. Most of the home support were unimpressed by their team’s lack of cohesion, and as such Borja Perez and Chris Johnston were introduced at half-time.
Shortly after the interval, Ngoo departed clutching his right shoulder area and was replaced by Dale Carrick. Kilmarnock were far stronger at the start of the second period and pressed their visitors back, however Hearts could have doubled their advantage on 62 minutes from the penalty spot. Sissoko bundled the evasive Walker to ground inside the box but goalkeeper Bell saved Stevenson’s penalty low to his right. He also blocked Walker’s attempt from the follow up.
The winger appealed for another - more obvious looking - penalty moments later after a collision with Ryan O’Leary. Referee Calum Murray was unmoved and play continued with the hosts back on the front foot. Mark O’Hara’s overhead attempt at goal bounced wide as the Hearts defence looked occasionally jittery.
A breakaway attack saw two Hearts substitutes combine for a chance to seal victory. Arvydas Novikovas’ cross landed at the back post for Carrick, but he somehow scooped the ball wide of target from close range. At the opposite end, Kris Boyd headed down into the ground and over Jamie MacDonald’s crossbar from a similar position. Sammy Clingan then lashed a venomous free-kick just past the goalkeeper’s left post.
In the dying minutes, a long ball fell into Boyd’s path for a volley which MacDonald parried brilliantly to safeguard his clean sheet. When O’Hara’s drive also flew wide, it was clear the three points were going to Edinburgh.
Kilmarnock (4-4-2): Bell; Barbour, O’Leary (Gros 70), Sissoko, Tesselaar (Johnston 46); O’Hara, Ibrahim (Perez 46), Clingan, Fowler; Boyd, Heffernan. Subs: Jaakkola, Hay, Sheridan, Slater.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; Hamill, Webster, Wilson, McHattie; Holt, Barr (McGowan 89), Stevenson, Walker (Novikovas 75); Ngoo (Carrick 48), Sutton. Subs: Ridgers, Taouil, D Smith, McKay.