Hearts made it six wins out of seven with a hard-fought triumph over Hamilton, with individual brilliance at both ends of the pitch ensuring their fourth consecutive 2-0 victory.
Rudi Skacel and David Templeton each scored exceptional goals, and on a day that the club mourned the passing of much-loved former goalkeeper Jim Cruickshank, a penalty was saved by Marian Kello.
This was a day when the Hearts supporters paid their respects to legendary keeper Cruickshank, who died on the Thursday night prior to this match. After a minute’s silence for a player who was a fans’ favourite at Tynecastle in the 1960s and 1970s, Kello hung a yellow strip bearing Cruickshank’s name in the back of his net. Those inclined to sentiment imagined a nod of approval when he flung himself across the line to turn Jim Goodwin’s first-half shot round the post, and then when he blocked a shot by Damian Casalinuovo.
Those, though, were nothing to the save that spared Hearts a fraught finish. When Ruben Palazuelos brought down Flavio Paixao in the box, Simon Mensing brought his flawless record from the spot to the table. Although his penalty was the right height for Kello, the Slovakian goalkeeper had to be quick and strong with his outstretched hand.
Play raged on, Kello dusted himself down, and Cruickshank’s shirt hung untouched in the goal behind him. It was gifted to the family, complete with the signature of every Hearts player following the match.
Manager Jim Jefferies opted for the same personnel who had served him so well in recent weeks, although there was an alteration to the strategy that was seen in Perth the week before. Perhaps anticipating similar resistance from a stuffy Hamilton side, the Hearts manager gave Skacel a central role between Stephen Elliott and Templeton, all of whom were charged with supporting striker Kevin Kyle.
They were slow to find their way behind the visitors’ defence, but, with the presence of Skacel, Hearts were able to carve something out of nothing. Twice he caught the Hamilton goalkeeper by surprise with an unlikely effort. First, he pounced on a half-cleared cross to squeeze in a shot that the wrong-footed Hamilton keeper Tomas Cerny did well to block.
Then came his goal, just after half an hour, an instinctive first-time blow from an impossible position that you would’ve missed if you blinked. The Czech midfielder was ambling towards the corner of Hamilton’s penalty area when the ball fell into his path and sat up nicely. Where others would have put their head down and made for the byeline, Skacel struck the ball high over Cerny and into the far corner.
The interval was good for Hearts, who emerged from it with renewed intent. Within three minutes, Ismael Bouzid had fresh-aired a chance, and Templeton had joined Skacel on the scoresheet. It was an inspired effort, from just outside the penalty area. When the ball broke to him, after a Kyle header was cleared, the young winger leaned back and, with his right instep, curled a dipping shot over the keeper and into the top left-hand corner.
The visitors now had no option but to be more adventurous and even before the introduction of the Paixao twins midway through the second half, Accies fashioned their best chance of the match. Dougie Imrie rushed into the channel, squared a perfect ball to the advancing Damian Casalinuovo, only to find Kello in the way.
Hearts: Kello, Jonsson, Palazuelos, Bouzid, Mrowiec, Zaliukas, Black, Skacel, Kyle, Elliott, Templeton.