Tynecastle witnessed the Beast From The East plus some zest from the west as Hearts and Kilmarnock played out a 1-1 draw in truly horrible conditions.
Steve Clarke’s Ayrshire juggernaut continues apace after a deserved draw in Edinburgh – Eamonn Brophy’s early strike cancelled out by Steven Naismith’s first Hearts goal before half-time.
Hearts were left cursing a wasted late penalty by Kyle Lafferty. He was judged to have been fouled inside the area in the final minute but, from 12 yards, the striker saw his shot saved by former Jambos goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald to deny the hosts victory.
The well-publicised snowstorm from eastern Europe was a theme throughout the evening as the biting eastern chill took hold in Gorgie. Nonetheless, both sides made a fair attempt at trying to win this encounter. Hearts remain fifth in the Ladbrokes Premiership, but were made to work for their point by a constantly improving Kilmarnock side.
Brophy, the replacement for injured top goalscorer Kris Boyd, struck inside three minutes as the visitors took control. Naismith’s header levelled the score against the club which launched his career. After a fairly even second half, a draw was the fair result.
Kilmarnock have been in rampant form since Clarke replaced Lee McCulloch in charge last October. Nine wins, three draws and just one solitary defeat – by Aberdeen – in their previous 13 matches was indicative of the manager’s shrewd coaching and management.
They came to Edinburgh knowing victory would propel them above Hearts and into fifth place in the Premiership. Considering they sat bottom when Clarke took control eight matches into the campaign, the turnaround at Rugby Park has been one of Scottish football’s stories of the season.
Scotland manager Alex McLeish was a notable figure in the Tynecastle directors’ box. He braved the swirling snow and freezing temperatures for another look at Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. The new national coach watched McLaughlin perform heroics to keep the score down at Ibrox on Saturday and is considering calling him up for next month’s friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary. He was again in inspired form when needed.
This was the start of a massive ten-day period for Hearts. After Kilmarnock comes a Scottish Cup quarter-final at Motherwell on Sunday and then next Friday night’s Edinburgh derby with Hibs at Easter Road. League points, cup progress and Capital bragging rights are all at stake in a congested period of fixtures. However, they got off to the worst possible start in this encounter.
It took the visitors less than three minutes to find the net. A long ball from midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu wasn’t dealt with by the Hearts defence, who were without centre-back John Souttar due to a hamstring complaint. Christophe Berra seemed distracted by the presence of Brophy and the Kilmarnock forward seized on the bouncing ball to get in behind and slide a confident finish beneath the emerging McLaughlin from 18 yards.
Hearts’ first attempt at MacDonald’s goal was a dipping volley by Lafferty on 24 minutes, which the former Tynecastle keeper held without undue trouble. At the opposite end, McLaughlin produced a stunning one-handed save to parry Brophy’s vicious shot and keep the deficit at one. It proved a vital intervention as the hosts restored parity only seconds later.
David Milinkovic’s cross from the left was glanced home by Naismith at the near post for his first goal in maroon since arriving on loan from Norwich City last month. He didn’t do much celebrating against his formative club. Instead, he immediately grabbed the ball and headed back to the centre circle to get on with proceedings.
Hearts came tantalisingly close to a second five minutes from the interval. Midfielder Joaquim Adao lofted a beautiful cushioned pass over the Kilmarnock defence to Lafferty and he steered the ball past MacDonald. Full-back Greg Taylor then came to the visitors’ rescue with a last-ditch clearance which hit the post on its way out.
Hearts manager Craig Levein would have been encouraged watching his players deliver a much improved performance than they did at Ibrox on Saturday. Draws had too often undermined their progress this season, so they set out to secure a second goal at the start of the second half. Both teams were severely hindered by the inclement weather, it must be said. Relentless snow flurries swirled around Tynecastle to make vision and passing extremely difficult. The precipitation did nothing for the uneven pitch, either.
Kilmarnock captain Gordon Greer was forced off by injury and replaced by Stuart Findlay just seven minutes into the second period. Naismith then headed Don Cowie’s free-kick wide of target as Hearts continued pressing, but the Ayrshire side were more than able to assert themselves when space opened up. Another substitute, Lee Erwin, drove a first-time shot into McLaughlin’s arms from 20 yards just after the hour.
Another effort from Erwin, this time a header from Stephen O’Donnell’s cross, was held by McLaughlin entering the final ten minutes. Then came the save of the evening, and It was no surprise to see McLaughlin making it. He somehow managed to spring to his right and claw Jordan Jones’ netbound header from Rory McKenzie’s cross out from his goal as it bounced towards the far corner.
Lafferty’s penalty miss was a decisive moment. He surged into the opposition penalty area in the final minute and appeared to be impeded by Mulumbu. Referee Don Robertson pointed instantly to the spot. The Northern Irishman looked confident stepping up from 12 yards, but his low shot was held when the adept MacDonald dived to his left.
Hearts (4-4-1-1): McLaughlin; Randall, Hughes, Berra, Mitchell (M Smith 81); Cowie (Callachan 89), Cochrane, Adao, Milinkovic (Amankwaa 76); Naismith; Lafferty. Unused subs: Hamilton, Godinho, Irving, Henderson.
Kilmarnock (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; O’Donnell, Broadfoot, Greer (Findlay 52), Taylor; Power, Mulumbu; McKenzie, Tshibola (Wilson 90), Jones; Brophy (Erwin 57). Unused subs: Fasan, Dicker, Kiltie, Simpson.
Referee: Don Robertson.