THE most galling aspect of this defeat for Hearts must be that they passed up the chance to sign Cillian Sheridan as recently as last month.
The 23-year-old Irishman, whose hat-trick secured a fourth successive win at Tynecastle for Kilmarnock, was offered to Hearts as a solution to their dearth of attacking options before the transfer window closed. Coaching staff at Riccarton were eager to agree a deal but the club’s board did not sanction the move.
That decision came back to haunt them at the weekend. With no offer forthcoming from Hearts, Sheridan chose Kilmarnock upon leaving the Bulgarian club CSKA Sofia and now has four goals in three appearances.
He clinically dispatched his hat-trick past Jamie MacDonald to grant Kilmarnock their fourth win in four visits to Gorgie since April 2010. In that time they have only conceded one goal, the consolation header Marius Zaliukas converted moments from the end of Saturday’s encounter. Manager Kenny Shiels could be forgiven for relishing trips to this particular venue.
Hearts had many scoring opportunities throughout the afternoon but Callum Paterson, Arvydas Novikovas and others were somewhat less potent than they had been in recent matches against Dundee United and Livingston. The balance of play was overwhelmingly in the hosts’ favour, illustrated by their 20 attempts at goal compared to Kilmarnock’s eight, but Sheridan’s incisive finishing made the difference.
Key defender Andy Webster was left on the substitutes’ bench after recovering from back and hip injuries. In his absence, the Hearts defence was carved open all to easily. “It was the same old story for us,” lamented John McGlynn, the Hearts manager. “We were well on top in the first half with lots of corners, free-kicks and scoring chances. If you score first then it puts a different complexion on the match. In games we’ve lost, we haven’t taken our chances when we were on top and that was the case again.”
Hearts created openings for Novikovas and Paterson but Sheridan struck first on 32 minutes. With Ryan McGowan off the field to replace a lost contact lense, Kilmarnock mounted an attack down the left flank and ruthlessly exposed the right-back’s absence. James Dayton crossed for the unmarked Sheridan to glance his header downwards into the far corner of the net.
His second goal game shortly after the interval. The striker looked offside as Manuel Pascali lofted a pass over the Hearts defence, however television pictures later proved that Darren Barr had played him on. Sheridan galloped forward to collect the ball and, as MacDonald emerged, he calmly rolled it beneath the goalkeeper. “It’s a big blow at 2-0 down and we felt the second goal was crucial,” continued McGlynn. “Then came the third. We aren’t guilty of losing soft goals but we lost soft goals on Saturday. I don’t think 3-1 was a fair reflection of the game.”
The third was certainly soft. Danny Racchi’s swerving free-kick bounced in front of MacDonald, who looked like he expected Danny Grainger to head clear. The goalkeeper could only parry the ball into Sheridan’s path for a simple close-range conversion.
For all their dominance in possession, Hearts found themselves 3-0 down. They continued to create chances but scored only seconds from time when Zaliukas headed home Grainger’s corner.
The victory took Kilmarnock third in the Scottish Premier League but Shiels urged caution. “We are not that far off the bottom,” he said. “We have to stay away from Dundee and the teams that are down there. Sixty per cent of games this season have been draws so we need to stay above the danger zone.
“We need to try to get into the top six and then consolidate that position. I’m pleased we are not bottom but I think you can only formulate the table after 16 games when it gets more accurate.”
On Sheridan’s contribution, Shiels added: “He’s gradually getting there. Confidence is a wonderful thing. I think he’s improving as we go along and he did really well again on Saturday. We tried last year to get him but St Johnstone outbid us.
“We tried again in the summer, we spoke with his agent and we agreed that this would be right club at right time in his career. Jimmy Nicholl and I met him and tried to convince him of that. Hopefully we left a good impression.”
McGlynn declared himself relatively pleased that his players had created openings, with Paterson in particular taking up good positions in dangerous areas. “The team had scored six goals in two games before Saturday. Paterson is like any striker, getting into positions to score goals but maybe not taking them all. He scored at Tannadice, he had chances during the week against Livingston. He’s still learning and he has good potential.”