Rudi Skacel netted a hat-trick at Tynecastle as Hearts beat St Mirren to move up to fourth place and keep the Paisley side rooted to the bottom of the Scottish Premier League.
Marius Zaliukas appeared in the Hearts starting line-up for the second week in a row suggesting there was a thawing in the relationship between the Lithuanian and club owner Vladimir Romanov, the latter having publicly criticised the player during contract talks.
Hearts were celebrating a goal after just 75 seconds. Gorgie favourite Skacel finished off a move involving Suso Santana and Kevin Kyle, the big striker laying the ball off to the Czech midfielder who blasted a low shot into the bottom corner of the net from 20 yards past Craig Samson.
Buddies striker Michael Higdon failed to connect well when set up by Kenny McLean as Hearts were almost caught out.
Then strike partner Paul McGowan prodded an effort straight at Hearts goalkeeper Marian Kello following Higdon’s knock-down.
Skacel scored his third goal in four games since returning to Hearts when John Potter fouled Calum Elliot just outside the box and he curled the free-kick round the wall, leaving Samson helpless.
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon was missing the experience of goalkeeper Paul Gallacher, Steven Thomson, David Barron and Craig Dargo in his team. And Lennon would have been horrified to witness Zaliukas run 70 yards from the edge of his own box, then pass to Skacel on the left to set him up for his hat-trick. However, the striker’s shot ricocheted off Potter and hit the Saints crossbar.
With a two-goal deficit at half-time, Lennon’s team-talk would probably have focused on the effect an early goal could have on the St Mirren cause. But there was little on offer from Higdon and McGowan, while Gareth Wardlaw made one promising second-half run before the move failed to transpire.
Jambos striker Elliot made a hash of a volley at the back post as Hearts blew the chance to go three goals up and he was replaced with 21 minutes to remaining by forward Stephen Elliott. Lennon tried to inject some life into St Mirren’s play by giving midfielder Aaron Mooy his first taste of Scottish football since joining from Bolton Wanderers the previous day.
Saints defenders Darren McGregor and Potter gave their all to head and punt clear any balls that came into the box.
With a little over ten minutes remaining, one header by the former denied Skacel the chance to put the match out of the Paisley side’s reach. The attacks on either flank by Skacel and Santana dried up in a disappointing second half, while Paul McQuade’s late appearance for Higdon did not give the St Mirren player time to make a difference.
However, in added-on time, Skacel completed his hat-trick with a great individual goal. With no apparent danger, he cut infield and hit a right-foot shot past Samson to round off a memorable day for the talisman.
Hearts: Kello, Barr, Bouzid, Zaliukas, Jonsson, Palazuelos, Santana, Skacel, Mrowiec, Kyle, Elliot.