Maroon Memories: Ryan Stevenson hat-trick crushes Kilmarnock
Ryan Stevenson scored a hat-trick as Hearts crushed Kilmarnock and increased the Ayrshire side’s relegation play-off fears.
The already-relegated hosts were streets ahead of Killie and Stevenson’s treble was the least they deserved for their energetic first-half display.
Kilmarnock went into this one having won the three previous meetings of the teams this season, but had lost five of their past six league games. Hearts, meanwhile, were unbeaten in five and had won four of those.
The pattern of play was set from the first whistle as the hosts piled forward, determined to test the nerves of the visitors.
And the home side grabbed the goal their early dominance merited after 11 minutes.
Rory McKenzie downed Sam Nicholson on the edge of the area and Stevenson’s free-kick from the angle found its way through a packed box to beat Craig Samson.
Hearts kept the pressure on and soon cashed in on some woeful Killie defending to double their advantage.
Nicholson delivered into the area and when the visitors failed to clear, Stevenson slammed a left-foot shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Kilmarnock offered a threat at the other end when Boyd drilled in a shot that Jamie MacDonald had to turn around the post.
The visitors then had a penalty claim when Chris Johnston went down under Callum Paterson’s challenge, but referee Calum Murray ignored the appeals. Hearts finished the half as they started as Dale Carrick’s delightful touch and pass sent Billy King darting away. He fed Stevenson, who was denied his hat-trick by a decent stop from Samson.
But Stevenson’s treble was only delayed by a matter of seconds, as he knocked the ball out to King and then raced into the area to finish on the six-yard line.
The visitors were looking for a major improvement in the second 45 but their sloppiness continued as Manuel Pascali’s poor pass nearly sent Stevenson through, whose effort clipped the post.
Stevenson then turned provider after a lightning counter-attack, setting up King to crash in the fourth.
The visitors threw on Alexei Eremenko but there was no stopping the one-way traffic towards their goal with Hearts hitting their fifth just before the hour.
Paterson cleared the ball from his own box then burst forward into the Killie area, where he finished from Stevenson’s delivery.
Killie tried to shore things up at the back to help their goal difference and Hearts took their foot off the gas as the clock ticked down.
They still had chances to add to their tally, however, and could have added more goals with a little more care in the final third.
Hearts: J MacDonald, K McHattie, C Paterson, D Wilson, D McGowan, B King (D Smith, 72), D Carrick (G Oliver, 78), S Robinson, J Holt, R Stevenson (J Hamill, 87), S Nicholson. Subs not used: J Walker, M Ridgers, J McGhee, B McKay.
Kilmarnock: C Samson, R Barbour, M Pascali, J Tesselaar, V Maksimenko, C Johnston, C Slater, S Clingan, R McKenzie (L Ashcroft, 63), R Muirhead (A Eremenko, 57), K Boyd (W Gros, 69). Subs not used:J Fowler, B Nicholson, A Reguero, D Moberg-Karlsson.
Referee: Calum Murray.