JOSH MAGENNIS’ header ten minutes from time denied Hearts victory in a fiercely contested affair at Rugby Park. Callum Paterson’s superb volley had the visitors leading 2-1 but Magennis headed home a corner to ensure a share of the points.
Conrad Balatoni opened the scoring late in the first half before Gavin Reilly equalised two minutes later. Paterson’s effort was the goal of the game but wasn’t enough to secure a win for the visitors, who remain six points behind second-placed Aberdeen in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Kilmarnock are fighting for survival in second bottom place and will be grateful for a point, although both sides could have taken all three given the chances created. The second half of the match was far more entertaining than the first, with more goalmouth incidents and a notable number of late challenges which upset both sets of fans.
Passing football was a welcome sight from both teams on the artificial Rugby Park surface. The fluidity was interrupted by several fouls during the early exchanges but Hearts threatened on 17 minutes from Sam Nicholson’s through ball to Reilly. The striker was in the act of shooting inside the penalty area when Kilmarnock defender Kevin McHattie appeared with a perfectly-timed sliding block tackle.
At the opposite end, Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander parried a shot from Magennis, who had made an intelligent run on to Adam Frizzell’s pass. Nicholson sustained a heavy challenge from young Kilmarnock defender David Syme midway through the first half and had the ball driven into his stomach on the ground seconds later. He struggled for a while but it was the hosts who made the first change of the afternoon when the injured Tope Obadeyi was replaced by Rory McKenzie.
Hearts tried to size the initiative when Juanma, restored to the starting line-up in place of Osman Sow, charged into the penalty box for a through ball. He was tackled by a combination of McHattie and Lee Ashcroft, resulting in the away end howling for a penalty kick. Referee Alan Muir was unmoved. The visitors then fell behind two minutes before the break.
Steven Smith’s tackle on Juwon Oshaniwa on the goal line prompted calls for a foul from Hearts players and fans, however play continued. Smith rolled the ball back to Magennis for a low cross from the right which Balatoni, a former Hearts youth player, hit at the diving Alexander. The ball was partially stopped by the goalkeeper but landed for Balatoni to knock into the net at the second attempt.
Rather than indulge in what they felt was an injustice, Hearts set about levelling quickly. Nicholson’s trickery on the left flank created space for a cross which Billy King volleyed at goal. Jamie MacDonald’s instinctive save pushed the ball on to the post, but Reilly was waiting to pounce and tie the game.
The second half was ten minutes old when the Edinburgh club took the lead. It was harsh on MacDonald, who saved brilliantly from Buaben at point-blank range, only for the loose ball to land at Paterson’s feet 20 yards from goal. The full-back did a keepie-up before volleying with his left foot into the net to put Hearts ahead.
They quickly tried to kill the match off with a third goal and Igor Rossi was unfortunate to see his header cleared off the goal line by McHattie. Kilmarnock introduced Kris Boyd in the hope he would make an impact and they came close on 76 minutes when Smith’s corner was headed narrowly over Alexander’s crossbar by Balatoni.
Smith’s very next delivery a few minutes later led to the equaliser. His corner was met by the towering Magennis for a header which flew into the net to bring Kilmarnock much relief. Ashcroft’s header from a Smith free-kick in stoppage-time might have won the game for the home side but the defender’s effort sailed high over the crossbar.
Kilmarnock (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; Syme, Ashcroft, Balatoni, McHattie; Slater, Smith; Kiltie, Frizzell, Obadeyi; Magennis.
32: McKenzie for Obadeyi
73: Boyd for Slater
Unused subs: Ridgers, Findlay, Barbour, Splaine, Carrick.
Hearts (4-4-2): Alexander; Paterson, Augustyn, Rossi, Oshaniwa; King, Djoum, Buaben, Nicholson; Reilly, Juanma.
55: Sow for King
74: Zanatta for Reilly
Unused subs: Hamilton, Ozturk, McGhee, Pallardo, Gomis, Zanatta.
Referee: Alan Muir.