TYNECASTLE celebrated its 120th birthday, but otherwise it was business as usual: a sell-out crowd, a couple of key players dropped,
with one – the club’s top scorer and a contender for player of the year in Scotland – rumoured to have walked out; oh, and a sublime performance and four-goal thrashing of Dunfermline Athletic that maintained their three-point lead, and improved their goal difference advantage to 12, over third-placed Rangers.
All pretty run-of-the-mill stuff where Hearts were concerned. Rudi Skacel and Andy Webster were missing from the starting line-up, prompting a flurry of rumours that either, or both, could be on their way out. But as the match got under way, and Hearts clicked instantly and impressively into gear, their absence appeared almost irrelevant.
The match was over as a contest long before half-time as the home players executed the pre-match instructions from Valdas Ivanauskas to devastating effect. The controversy over Rudi Skacel’s omission from the match squad aside, it was difficult to pick a single fault in Hearts’ performance.
Hearts’ interim head coach had his players thoroughly motivated, brimming with intent and almost foaming at the mouth as they waited for kick-off to arrive so they could display their undoubted capabilities. As the first whistle went, it was almost possible to see the fear clouding the eyes of the Dunfermline players.
Seven minutes in, and Michal Pospisil had the hosts in front. As Robbie Neilson launched a long throw into the Dunfermline penalty area, the visiting players attempted a revolutionary method of defending whereby everyone remains rooted to the one spot.
Predictably it proved useless, and as the ball sailed over Greg Shields’ head, Pospisil charged in to tap it into the net inside the six-yard box.
Seven minutes after that, Roman Bednar made it two with a header that looped beyond Allan McGregor and in at the back post. Again Neilson was the provider, this time with a cross from the right.
The full-back was also a major contributor to his side’s third goal, which arrived in the 25th minute. His throw-in to Paul Hartley was returned to him and he fed Saulius Mikoliunas. As the Lithuanian moved into the Dunfermline penalty area, Jamie McCunnie granted him all the space necessary for an accurate if slightly weak right-footed shot that rolled all too easily past McGregor from 16 yards. Game over.
Jim Leishman’s players looked devoid of motivation for most of the 90 minutes, the sight of a black-and-white shirted visitor standing alone with his hands in the air in exasperation as another pass went astray a common feature of the afternoon.
After the interval, Hearts showed less fluency and intent than during the first half as the players relaxed in the knowledge that there was little danger of the three points being lost. But, just as a hint of complacency was creeping in, substitute Juho Makela dispersed it with his first goal for the club.
With this one-sided encounter drawing to a close, Dunfermline’s Greg Ross was issued an instant red card for a late and high tackle from behind on Bruno Aguiar, which caused the Portuguese midfielder to hobble from the field and leave his side to cope for the remaining minutes with only ten men.