The Edinburgh club recorded a riveting 3-2 victory at Tannadice against Dundee United, their closest challengers in the cinch Premiership table. Goals from Liam Boyce, Josh Ginnelly and a late winner from substitute Ellis Simms were enough to overcome Dylan Levitt and Ryan Edwards strikes for United.
Hearts already have a European place and a Scottish Cup final spot guaranteed so the remainder of their league season means little. United still covet a Europa Conference League qualifying berth but were outdone by gritty opponents who deserved their victory.
The end result saw Hearts extend their unbeaten run to nine games, increasing the gap between themselves and the Tayside club to 19 points in the Premiership table.
Hearts were without experienced regulars including Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley, Andy Halliday, John Souttar, Michael Smith and Beni Baningime due to various injury problems. On-loan striker Simms was left on the bench for a rest and the hosts sensed the chance to exploit a weakened Tynecastle side.
Ross Graham and Nicky Clark had opportunities for United inside the opening seconds. Clark tried a second attempt which forced an instinctive reaction save from Craig Gordon, but the Hearts goalkeeper was beaten by a fine goal seconds later.
Levitt nutmegged Peter Haring and dribbled past Alex Cochrane before a composed left-footed finish into the bottom corner from eight yards out. It was an ideal start for United with three minutes gone.
Another Hearts injury transpired when Aaron McEneff went down with a suspected calf problem. Ben Woodburn was the replacement. Boyce then tested Ben Siegrist following Barrie McKay’s superb through ball, but the United keeper was equal to the task.
Only a flying header by Charlie Mulgrew denied Ginnelly an equaliser on 33 minutes as the winger volleyed a Siegrist punch at goal. Parity was restored ten minutes later, though.
Siegrist couldn’t hold Nathaniel Atkinson’s driven cross and Boyce was on hand to convert his 16th goal of the season from close range. It was deserved reward for Hearts’ sustained pressure since the 20-minute mark.
From another McKay ball forward after the restart, Ginnelly rattled the outside of the post from the tightest angle early. Siegrist produced a splendid low save from the same player minutes later as Hearts continued their advances.
It brought them a second goal on 59 minutes. Cochrane’s long ball was taken down by Ginnelly on the run and the Englishman evaded the diving Siegrist to score into an unguarded net.
Yet United were behind for just six minutes. Edwards shimmied past Boyce 30 yards from goal and dispatched a raking low drive into Gordon’s bottom right corner to level the scoreline again at 2-2.
Simms lashed an emphatic winner on 83 minutes after replacing Ginnelly. Once again, McKay’s through ball provided the opportunity and the giant forward wasted no time dispatching a left-footed drive high past Siegrist for his sixth goal in maroon.
Dundee Utd (3-5-2): Siegrist; Edwards, Mulgrew, Graham; Niskanen (Freeman 58), Smith, Levitt, Mochrie (Meekison 71), McMann (Sporle 87); Clark (McNulty 71), Watt.
Hearts (3-4-1-2): Gordon; Moore, Sibbick, Cochrane; Atkinson, McEneff (Woodburn 15), Haring, Mackay-Steven; McKay; Boyce, Ginnelly (Simms 71).
Referee: Colin Steven.