Hearts 0-1 Kilmarnock: Jambos lose final home game as Uche Ikpeazu goes off injured
Hearts suffered a pre-Scottish Cup final scare as first-choice striker Uche Ikpeazu limped off with a hamstring injury against Kilmarnock.
The giant Englishman asked to be substituted early in the second half of the 1-0 defeat and was immediately replaced by Sean Clare.
Medical staff will assess the extent of the injury over the next few days, with all concerned hoping it is not serious. Hearts meet Celtic in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park in three weeks' time and Ikpeazu is integral to their attacking plans.
Manager Craig Levein stated after the match that he is confident Ikpeazu will not be ruled out of the season's showpiece. He explained that the forward's hamstring was tight and he came off to avoid doing any further damage. The recovery period is initially expected to be a week to ten days.
This game at Tynecastle Park was settled four minutes from the end when Kilmarnock defender Stuart Findlay drove home the winning goal following a corner. The three points were vital to the Ayrshire club's European aspirations, while the defeat was a disappointing way for Hearts to finish the campaign in front of their home support.
Kilmarnock kicked off in the Capital knowing Aberdeen's lunchtime defeat by Celtic presented the chance to draw level with the Pittodrie club in the Ladbrokes Premiership's European race. They needed victory over Hearts to achieve that and welcomed back centre-back Stuart Findlay from suspension in front of a vociferous band of travelling supporters.
The hosts granted midfielder Ryan Edwards his first start for the club ten months after his arrival, while Steven MacLean also returned. Both impressed as substitutes in last weekend's Edinburgh derby against Hibs.
Eamonn Brophy's driven shot rasped the palms of Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal in the opening ten minutes before Arnaud Djoum's volley at the opposite end rose steadily over Daniel Bachmann's crossbar.
Kilmarnock fashioned another opening when Brophy played in Scotland full-back Stephen O'Donnell on the right for a low cross towards Liam Miller. Sliding in at the back post with a goal-saving intervention was another international defender, John Souttar. Then play swung the other way once more and Ikpeazu intercepted a long ball ahead of Bachmann to run beyond the goalkeeper. His attempted finish was blocked by the visiting centre-back Alex Bruce.
Kilmarnock asserted themselves better around the half-hour mark. On 34 minutes, they came closest to breaking the deadlock. Miller's delivery from the left was struck first time by Brophy, only for the ball to bounce off Zlamal's right post as the Czech heaved a sigh of relief.
The second half started worryingly for Hearts when Ikpeazu was forced off. His wellbeing will be a major concern ahead of the cup final but Sean Clare took his place to add some dynamism in the final third. Breaking the opposition down remained difficult, though, due to their well-organised rearguard.
On 69 minutes, the afternoon's best chance fell to Bruce. Fed by Youssouf Mulumbu, Rory McKenzie crossed to the Englishman at the back post. He effectively had a free header just yards out but nodded the ball over the Hearts crossbar to groans from the away fans behind the goal.
The match remained evenly poised entering the final stages. Kilmarnock's probing paid off four minutes from the end. A corner was cleared to Alan Power, who crossed towards Mulumbu in behind the home defence. He laid the ball back to Dicker for a cross which was headed goalwards by Mulumbu and cleared by Souttar. When the ball broke to Findlay, he lashed it first time beyond Zlamal with his left foot from around 12 yards for an emphatic winner.
That prompted some joyous celebrations from Kilmarnock players and fans. The Hearts players returned to the field after full-time to thank supporters for their backing this season, although in truth it was a rather sombre affair due to the scoreline.
Hearts (3-4-2-1): Zlamal; Souttar, Berra, Shaughnessy; M Smith, Cochrane (Lee 76), Djoum, Mulraney; MacLean, Edwards (Wighton 84); Ikpeazu (Clare 48). Unused subs: Doyle, Bozanic, Brandon, Dikamona.
Kilmarnock (4-3-3): Bachmann; O'Donnell, Bruce, Findlay, Taylor; Mulumbu, Dicker, Power; McKenzie (Burke 76), Brophy (Tshibola 90), Millar (Ndjoli 81). Unused subs: MacDonald, K Boyd, Waters, Millen.
Referee: Kevin Clancy.