Kilmarnock 0-1 Hearts: Ikpeazu the hero as Jambos maintain 100% record
Hearts maintain their 100 per cent record and stay top of the Ladbrokes Premiership after victory over ten-man Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Three days after selling Kyle Lafferty to Rangers, Craig Levein's side were boosted by a tremendous individual performance from fellow forward Uche Ikpeazu. The former Cambridge United man netted the only goal of the game and terrorised the Kilmarnock backline throughout the 90 minutes.
Hearts made two changes to the side that won at Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup last weekend. Both Callumn Morrison and Jake Mulraney started on the wings, with Steven MacLean dropping to the bench, while recent signing Jimmy Dunne was immediately inserted into the heart of the defence alongside skipper John Souttar.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides, with plenty of early opportunities to get the ball into the penalty area.
Dunne, signed on loan from Burnley on Wednesday, almost had a goal nine minutes into his debut. The centre-back was on hand when Peter Haring failed to make proper contact with a Michael Smith long throw. He struck the ball sweetly but right at goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald.
Two minutes later Dunne glanced wide from an Olly Lee free-kick, though was harshly blown for a foul on MacDonald.
Willie Collum remained reticent in granting advantage to the attacking team at both ends of the park during the first half, often blowing up for the slightest bit of contact perpetrated by the side on the ascendancy, while allowing greater leniency to the defence.
He did, however, award Kilmarnock a foul for John Souttar climbing on the back of Kris Boyd midway through the half. This roused the home support into life, though the striker's effort crashed into the bottom of the wall.
Jordan Jones, quiet through most of the opening period, soon flashed a cross right along the face of goal. It was begging for a tap in, though there were no takers.
The away side were threatening from set-pieces but couldn't get much going in open play. This was not for a lack of trying from Ikpeazu, who both ragdolled the home defenders and managed to make the ball stick every time it touched his boot.
Having won a free-kick from Gary Dicker on 42 minutes, Ikpeazu then chased down and retrived Lee's over-hit delivery. After leaving Dicker on his backside he crossed for his Hearts team-mate, who looked certain to score with a header from ten yards. MacDonald produced a reactionary save to deny Lee and keep the game scoreless.
The second period started in much the same fashion with Ikpeazu working himself into space before knocking wide for Mulraney. The striker moved into the penalty area, where he was a whisker away from diverting Mulraney's cross towards goal.
Ikpeazu would go close again on 64 minutes, this time heading on to the top of the bar following a corner from Lee.
Hearts were aided in their efforts to find a winner three minutes later when Dicker was shown a straight red card for a lunge on Morrison.
Boosted by their one-man advantage, Hearts poured forward and were incredulous when MacDonald managed to deny them again. A Scottish Cup winner from his time at Tynecastle, the 32-year-old made a stunning close-range save to deny substitute Steven MacLean, who had looked certain to score with a buller header.
Hearts, however, would not be denied and it was fitting that when the goal came it was Ikpeazu who got it. Haring's cross from a central position was headed superbly by the attacker from 18 yards and the ball flew into the bottom corner of the net.
The visitors almost made the match safe with four minutes remaining after yet more stunning work from their leading striker. Ikpeazu charged from the edge of his own box, beat three Killie players and slipped it to MacLean who reversed through for Steven Naismith. The ex-Rugby Park favourite saw his low drive come back off the post.
They were almost made to rue that miss when Kirk Broadfoot nearly ghosted on to a Jones' cross inside the six-yard box. It was Dunne who saved the Jambos, hooking the ball away at the last second before the centre-back could shoot from close range.
Kilmarnock (4-4-2): MacDonald; O'Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor (Thomas 84); Burke, Power, Dicker, Jones; Ndjoli (Brophy 75), K Boyd (Wilson 68). Subs not used: Bachmann, S Boyd, Waters, Graham, Thomas
Hearts (4-4-2): Zlamal; Smith (McDonald 71), Souttar, Dunne, Garuccio; Morrison, Lee, Haring, Mulraney (MacLean 61); Naismith, Ikpeazu. Subs not used: Doyle, Bozanic, Cochrane, Burns, Hamilton.
Bookings: Kilmarnock - Brophy. Hearts - Ikpeazu, Lee
Red card: Kilmarnock - Dicker.