Nathaniel Atkinson enjoys confident Hearts debut as Tynecastle side earn Scottish Cup win at Auchinleck Talbot
Andy Halliday's opening goal followed by Liam Boyce' s double and further goals from Peter Haring and Alex Cochrane earned the visitors a 5-0 win at Beechwood Park and straightforward passage into the next round.
Atkinson, signed from Melbourne City earlier this month, made his first appearance for the Edinburgh club and looked useful in the right wing-back role. He also claimed a fine assist for Cochrane's goal near the end.
The 22-year-old attacked at will against the West of Scotland League side and delivered plenty crosses into the danger area for Boyce and others. He also defended when necessary but, with Hearts in control of the tie, he spent most of the afternoon in Auchinleck's half.
Atkinson will work more on his fitness over the coming weeks but on first evidence his hunger and attacking instinct look to be among his strongest attributes.
John Souttar was not involved for Hearts in east Ayrshire as talks continue with Rangers over a quick transfer for the Scotland internationalist. On the positive front, as well as Atkinson making his first appearance, Boyce also returned after a calf problem. Beechwood Park was close to capacity, creating a rousing and traditional cup atmosphere.
Hearts found the net inside ten minutes but were thwarted by an offside flag against Boyce from Atkinson's low delivery. It was Barrie McKay's impressive reverse ball which put the Australian in behind the Talbot defence on the right.
Television replays showed that effort should have stood, however it took just a few extra moments for the visitors to score a permitted goal. Again McKay was the architect. His clipped cross into the centre invited Halliday to complete a diving header high beyond Andrew Leishman in the Auchinleck goal.
After a handling offence against defender Craig McCracken inside the hosts' penalty box went unpunished, referee Greg Aitken did award Hearts a spot-kick on 39 minutes. Boyce controlled a loping ball which struck Chris Stafford on the arm, and the Northern Irishman duly converted the resultant penalty to make it 2-0.
Atkinson enjoyed plenty advanced runs past opponents and into opposition territory during the first 45 minutes. He regularly charged forward wide on the right flank, allowing McKay to roam into pockets of space more centrally.
A number of crosses came from the Australian, who enjoyed a high starting position almost akin to a second winger at times. He also wasn't frightened to put his body on the line in 50-50 challenges.
Six minutes after the restart came Hearts' third goal. Halliday's cross from the left found Boyce for a straightforward header into the net from point-blank range. That settled the tie as a contest as the 1,400 travelling fans from Edinburgh perhaps began wondering who their team might draw in the next round.
Auchinleck came close to a consolation before the hour mark when Jamie Glasgow drove a left-footed effort at Craig Gordon. The goalkeeper couldn't hold it and the rebound fell for Graham Wilson seven yards out. He missed the target, much to the locals' disappointment.
Haring claimed the fourth Hearts goal ten minutes from time with an exemplary finish from substitute Aaron McEneff's through pass. Then came Atkinson's finest moment. He scampered past two Talbot players on the right to deliver a low ball across the goalmouth for Cochrane to knock home at the back post. It was a welcome end to a fine initiation for Tynecastle's newest recruit.
Auchinleck Talbot (4-4-1-1): Leishman; Stafford, McPherson, McCracken, A Wilson; Samson, Armstrong, Healy (Boyd 81), Glasgow; G Wilson (McDowall 68); Boylan (Mason 68).
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Smith, Halkett, Kingsley; Atkinson, Devlin, Haring, Cochrane; McKay (Mackay-Steven 78), Boyce (Ginnelly 82), Halliday (McEneff 68).
Referee: Greg Aitken.