Resilience was a quality that Hearts had displayed on a number of occasions in the 2002-03 SPL season and their ability to bounce back from the brink of defeat was again on show at Tynecastle.
The Jambos put the disappointment of their CIS League Cup loss to Rangers behind them with an emphatic win which greatly boosted their hopes of European football for the following season.
Hearts stole a march on Killie, their rivals for third place, with this victory ensuring they ended the day seven points clear of their visitors in the battle for European qualification.
Any sense of Hearts’ disappointment was not evident as they dominated Killie, although they had to wait until the second half of the match for the opener.
The home side were out of the starting blocks at a tremendous pace, forcing Jim Jefferies’ side on to the back foot almost immediately.
Within a minute, Austin McCann, deputising for the injured Stephane Mahe at left-back, whipped in a teasing cross that Colin Meldrum did well to pluck from the head of midfielder Phil Stamp.
Two minutes later, the Hearts fans were again on their feet to applaud their team as Jean-Louis Valois and Stamp played a neat one-two on the right touchline allowing the former Middlesbrough player to cross for Mark De Vries, who was only just beaten to the ball by Greg Shields with the goal gaping.
The visitors’ only real clear-cut opportunity of the match came 14 minutes from the interval when Andy McLaren played in Kris Boyd with a clever pass but, with only the goalkeeper to beat, the youngster screwed his shot just wide of Tepi Moilanen’s left-hand upright.
Despite their dominance, Hearts went in at the break on level terms but refused to be panicked and deservedly took the lead after just four minutes of the second half.
Former Tynecastle favourite Stevie Fulton was dispossessed by Valois and he fed the ball to Alan Maybury, who ghosted past two Killie defenders before firing an unstoppable, low 25-yard shot beyond the helpless Meldrum.
It was only his second-ever goal in the professional ranks but both had been right out of the top drawer.
The sending-off of Shields three minutes later for a second bookable offence virtually kept the points at Tynecastle but, just to make sure, the Jambos added another goal within 60 seconds.
In a moment that Killie keeper Meldrum wouldn’t enjoy seeing again, he flapped at a Stamp cross, allowing De Vries to beat him to the ball, steady himself and place a low shot between his legs and into the empty net.
Eleven minutes from time, Hearts completed a fine afternoon’s work when Valois was afforded far too much space down the left flank and he was able to play in Kevin McKenna, who had come on for the tiring De Vries. The Canadian internationalist coolly beat Meldrum with a shot into the far corner from five yards.
Hearts: Moilanen, Maybury, McCann, Webster, Pressley, MacFarlane, Stamp, Severin, Valois, De Vries, Wales.