Key Hearts man injured on a costly day for the Tynecastle side as ten-man Kilmarnock enjoy priceless win
Aberdeen’s victory at St Johnstone takes them to within touching distance of the Edinburgh club, who suffered another loss in Ayrshire. They seized an early lead through Lawrence Shankland but Danny Armstrong’s penalty and Christian Doidge’s goal overhauled the deficit before half-time.
The Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark appeared to be nursing a hamstring injury and was questionable at both goals before being substituted. Kilmarnock captain Rory McKenzie received a red card from referee Euan Anderson after an hour for a high tackle on Jorge Grant, however those from Tynecastle could not capitalise on the extra-man advantage.
Hearts pressed and Killie retreated as the second half wore on but the visitors did not create enough clear scoring chances. Sam Walker in the home goal proved himself more than capable on the few occasions he was called into action.
With only one home league win in 2023 prior to kick-off, Kilmarnock named an unchanged team against a Hearts side with no away victories in the Premiership this year. After the Aberdeen debacle two weeks ago, the visitors made three changes as Stephen Kingsley, Grant and Alan Forrest all returned. They also switched from a three-man defence to a back four.
The visitors took less than seven minutes to declare their intent. Kilmarnock defender Jeriel Dorsett gifted possession to Shankland 35 yards from goal, and the striker stepped forward to arrow an angled right-footed drive low into the corner of the net. Precisely the start his team desired.
Despite controlling the early stages, Hearts conceded a penalty on 22 minutes. Clark failed to hold Liam Donnelly’s 25-yard shot after it appeared to take a slight deflection off Toby Sibbick. Kyle Vassell fastened on to the rebound and was brought down by Clark after touching the ball past the diving keeper. Armstrong confidently converted from the spot following a VAR check.
That gave the hosts momentum with the away side knocked out of their rhythm and looking notably spooked. Concern over Clark’s fitness emerged after he went down holding a hamstring late in the first period. When the keeper came out and missed an attempted punch at Danny Armstrong’s 45th-minute cross from the left, Doidge found himself with a close-range tap-in for a 2-1 interval scoreline in Kilmarnock’s favour.
Ross Stewart replaced Clark for the second half, with Barrie McKay taking over from Orestis Kiomourtzoglou. Killie were reduced to ten men after a VAR check for serious foul play by McKenzie, who caught Grant on the knee with his studs. Hearts tried to exploit the numerical advantage but were met by aggressive and defiant challenges from those in blue and white.
Stephen Humphrys and Yutaro Oda were introduced in the hope of finding some penetration for the closing stage. Kilmarnock were not in the mood to relinquish their lead, though. They saw the game out, including seven minutes of stoppage-time, to claim three vital points in their fight against relegation. The Hearts fans vented their fury at full-time.
Kilmarnock (3-5-2): Walker; Mayo, Wright, Dorsett; Armstrong (Taylor 88), Watson (Power 88), Donnelly, McKenzie, Jones (Chambers 63); Doidge (Lyons 79), Vassell.
Hearts (4-3-3): Clark (Stewart 46); M Smith, Sibbick, Rowles, Kingsley (Cochrane 66); Grant, Kiomourtzoglou (McKay 46), Snodgrass; Ginnelly (Oda 79), Shankland, Forrest (Humphrys 66).
Referee: Euan Anderson.