What must please Hearts in addition to this unbeaten league run is the number of goals being scored and the quality of them.
Queen of the South are rightly regarded as one of the Scottish Championship’s stronger teams, yet Hearts have put seven past them in two meetings. They followed up a 3-0 win at Palmerston Park in October with Saturday’s 4-1 win at Tynecastle.
The Edinburgh club showed why they are favourites for promotion back to Scotland’s top flight with another convincing win. Three of their four goals belonged in the “sublime” category, although it must be said the home team wobbled and swayed for a while at the start of the second half against a dangerous Queens group.
James Keatings executed a dipping first-time volley to open the scoring. He took advantage of a poor defensive header by Mark Durnan and nipped in to lash the dropping ball over Alexander Clark from 20 yards. After Iain Russell’s penalty equaliser, Danny Wilson’s second looked more of a ricochet from Keatings’ corner. The third from Prince Buaben was individual skill combined with precise finishing. He jinked away from two opponents before drilling the ball low into the net. The fourth from Adam Eckersley came via Billy King’s impish backheel inside the penalty area following a driving run from the winger.
In 15 league games so far this season, Hearts have now scored 41 times. Keatings’ strike was the pick of Saturday’s bunch. “A goal’s a goal. I’m delighted with every goal,” he said. “I can’t remember much of it. There was a knock-on and I just tried to connect with it as best I could and hit the target. I’ll need to watch it back and see how good it was.
“We wanted to play the ball into the strikers and get the midfield higher but Queens recognised that early on and left a man in the hole. It was hard to get link-up play so I had a word with Danny and tried to get the ball over the top and in behind the two centre-halves. We managed to do that a few times and we’re just happy to get the three points.
“With them scoring a penalty, then Neil Alexander had to make a good save from a corner. That could have changed the game but it shows our character to overcome that and win 4-1. It shows how strong the team is. ”
Rangers’ 1-0 win over Cowdenbeath prevented the Edinburgh club increasing their lead at the top of the league. However, their goalscoring feats are proving too much for anyone else in the division at the moment. “We’re not concentrating on other results. At the end of the day, it’s down to us,” Keatimgs continued. “We have to go out there and get our three points before anything else. They’ll deal with their results and we’ll deal with ours.
“You can’t just expect to go and get three points everywhere in this league, as I saw last season with Hamilton. Alloa came to our place and took six points from us. It’s one of those leagues where, on their day, anybody can win. It’s up to us to keep on our toes, keep working and not lose concentration. Through the week you hear people saying, ‘have they got the character to go and win after a heavy defeat to Celtic last week?’ We’ve shown we’ve got a strong group here. We’re focused on what we have to do.”
This was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests, though. Buaben’s first half penalty, which would have put Hearts 2-0 ahead, struck a post. Queens controlled the start of the second period, equalised from the spot after Jamie Walker fouled Ian McShane, and would have gone 2-1 up had Alexander not saved Chris Higgins’ powerful header.
Once Wilson scored the second, however, the hosts relaxed. They scored two more and also managed to hand teenagers Robbie Buchanan and Nathan Flanagan a first start and senior debut respectively. Without the suspended Morgaro Gomis and injured Osman Sow, and with Sam Nicholson, Jason Holt and Dale Carrick not risked as they recover from injuries, Hearts had to make use of all resources. “It’s a great result,” said head coach Robbie Neilson. “We’re disappointed to lose a goal, which is the way it should be. We pride ourselves having the lowest goals against record. There will come a point in the season when we lose a game but the longer we keep it going, the better.”
Queen of the South left Gorgie rightly feeling they deserved more for their efforts. Their play was organised and effective, they tried to attack, and in McShane they had the best player on the pitch. “In the second half, we started well and you could hear their fans getting restless. We need to do that for 90 minutes,” said player/manager James Fowler. “We’ve been on a good run in the last seven games and the players will be keen to bounce back against Rangers.”
Goalscorer Iain Russell added: “We had the chance at 1-1 and Alexander made the save [from Higgins]. If that went in, it would have been a different game. It was a great atmosphere with the crowd on top of us and it was a competitive game. We’ve got Rangers this week so that’s two hard games together.”