Ruthless Hearts finish in style with Gary Mackay-Steven at the double to leave Raith Rovers facing Fife derby
A season Hearts will be glad to see the back of ended encouragingly in the Kirkcaldy darkness last night.
Many feel a campaign in the Scottish Championship was forced upon the Edinburgh club unnecessarily, but having won the title they can now hope for brighter evenings in the Premiership.
They do so following a run of five games without conceding a goal and can enter the top flight with some confidence restored. Just a few weeks ago, they looked a worryingly dispirited bunch after defeats by Brora Rangers and Queen of the South.
There is now more cohesion and intensity in Hearts’ play, although the Premiership will be an altogether different examination. They ended Raith Rovers’ hopes of finishing second in the Championship with a 4-0 victory at Stark’s Park.
Gary Mackay-Steven continued in similar vein to last weekend with two goals, Euan Henderson and substitute Steven Naismith claiming the others. Raith needed to win to secure second spot but found themselves reduced to ten men when Iain Davidson was dismissed with the score 2-0.
Rovers take third spot, meaning an all-Fife play-off quarter-final with rivals Dunfermline. The first leg of that tie is this Tuesday.
Without the injured Armand Gnanduillet, Hearts’ patient start was rewarded with a clinical opening goal on 11 minutes. Michael Smith’s crisp ball through the right channel found Mackay-Steven unmarked. His timely run took him in behind the Raith defence before a powerful finish into the bottom corner.
Liam Boyce nodded a cross into the arms of Raith goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald before Andy Halliday’s 20-yard free-kick struck the crossbar. The Kirkcaldy side were hemmed in their own half for long periods of the first 45 minutes but did spurn a glorious chance seven minutes from the interval.
Reghan Tumilty’s deep cross from the right found midfielder Brad Spencer just yards from goal. However, his hurried first-time attempt soared over the goalframe – much to Hearts’ relief.
With Dundee winning and aiming for second place, Raith emerged for the second half knowing they needed to turn this affair on its head. It was their opponents who remained in control, and they should have gone 2-0 ahead on 52 minutes.
Henderson collected Boyce’s through ball for a touch and finish, but MacDonald’s right hand stopped the ball low down. The keeper was alert enough to push away the subsequent loose ball.
Henderson did ripple the netting four minutes later after Hearts won possession from MacDonald’s kickout. Halliday fed the young forward for a turn and finish across the goalkeeper.
Then Henderson won a penalty when Davidson’s trip earned the Raith defender a straight red card from referee David Munro. Craig Halkett stepped up to the spot only to see his shot clip the top of the bar.
The metalwork was left shaking again from Boyce’s left foot but Naismith entered the fray to poke home a close-range finish and kill the game dead. The Hearts captain then exchanged passes with Boyce, who crossed for Mackay-Steven to tap home the fourth goal.
Raith Rovers (3-5-2): J MacDonald; Davidson, Mendy (Armstrong 46), Benedictus; Tumilty, Hendry, King, Spencer, K MacDonald; Vaughan (Cooney 60), Gullan (Ugwu 66).
Hearts (3-4-1-2): Gordon; M Smith (Irving 55), Halkett, Souttar; Logan, McEneff (Pollock 75), Haring, Halliday; Mackay-Steven; Henderson (Naismith 68), Boyce.