Hearts debrief: Shankland 'injury'; Selection surprise; Creative concern; Killie and cup hoodoos

A look back at the takeaways and talkings points from Hearts’ 1-0 defeat by Kilmarnock in the Premier Sports Cup last-16 tie at Tynecastle Park last night.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH

Despite all their possession, Hearts didn’t carve out nearly as many chances as they should have done with so many attacking players on the pitch. Barrie McKay was the one player who looked capable of unlocking the door at any moment. Starting in a No 10 role, he saw lots of the ball, drifting into space, dribbling and probing without ever finding the killer pass, cross or finish against a very well-drilled and compact Killie defence. It was a similar story in the second half when he moved to the left wing. What McKay lacked was a teammate to help him out, with Alan Forrest and Josh Ginnelly both underwhelming.

DEFINING MOMENT

Lawrence Shankland goes close with Hearts´ best, and arguably only, real chance of the night with header that was well saved by Kilmarnock goalkeeper Sam Walker. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

The image of Michael Smith hobbling towards the end summed up a disappointing night. This was a Hearts team down to the bare bones, running out of options, energy, inspiration and ideas as Kilmarnock bedded themselves in to see the game out. Other than Lawrence Shankland’s first-half header from an Andy Halliday cross, well saved by Killie keeper Sam Walker, the home team didn’t really create a clear-cut chance of note. Hearts had lots of creative players and lots of possession, particularly in the second half, but just didn’t do enough with it in the final third to cause the visitors any problems.

YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

For a horrible moment in the 14th minute it looked like Shankland had pulled his hamstring. After challenging for the ball at the back post, the striker hobbled back towards the halfway line with a hand clutching the back of his left leg. The last thing Hearts need is another key player to be sidelined, especially their top scorer and biggest goal threat. Fortunately he was moving freely again within a minute and the Hearts bench could breathe a sigh of relief.

REF WATCH

Don Robertson had a quiet, straightforward and comfortable night. Kilmarnock’s Liam Donnelly deserved his yellow card for a foul on Andy Halliday in the 13th minute and booking goalkeeper Sam Walker for time-wasting at the end of the first half was a bold decision. Robertson didn’t even waste time himself, brandishing the card from more than 50 yards away as he stood in the centre circle. Alex Cochrane was the only other booking and couldn’t have any complaints for impeding Daniel Armstrong after being nutmegged.

BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT

Given the injuries and the schedule, it was something of a surprise to see Robbie Neilson put out his strongest XI. Had he known that it would not be good enough to overcome Kilmarnock and reach the quarter-finals, the manager would surely have rested key men like Cammy Devlin, Peter Haring, Barrie McKay and Lawrence Shankland for what will be a tough game on on an energy-sapping plastic pitch at Livingston on Saturday and next Thursday’s Europa Conference League opener. Neilson could have started with youngsters and fringe men like Euan Henderson, Connor Smith, Aidan Denholm and Gary MacKay-Steven to give them minutes. Maybe Neilson should have known better. Hearts, Kilmarnock and the League Cup is a bad mix. This was Killie’s fifth win in a row at Tynecastle. Hearts have reached the League Cup final just twice in 60 years of trying – and lost them both.