Hearts 1-0 Kilmarnock
Attendance: 15,000 (approx)
The Kilmarnock fixture at Tynecastle may not be at the top of many Hearts fans' lists for the most exciting prospect of the season, but over the years these two sides have fought out some really cracking football matches, and I would probably put last night's game into that category.
I have scarcely seen so many excellent chances generated in one match - mainly for the home side it has to be said - and to be brutally honest the only reason that we never came away from Tynecastle last night having witnessed six or seven goals being scored was the distinct lack of quality in front of goal suffered by both teams.
The game really didn't get going until the second half, but in the first there were a few glimpses of what lay ahead in terms of missed opportunities - at both ends of the pitch. Hearts got what proved to be the all-important goal with just over half an hour gone, and it came from Andy Driver, who was making a welcome return to first team action. After some untidy Kilmarnock defending, the little Hearts winger wrestled possession back for himself just outside the penalty area (Killie claimed for a high boot but it looked as though several players had their feet at the same height) before unleashing a glorious 20-yard volley into the top corner with his right foot. A great goal, especially given that it was the player's 'standing' right foot!
Hearts were looking dangerous down both flanks. We are all quite comfortable with the Wallace-Driver combination down the left I would think, but I thought that Suso and Thomson on the other side provided a lot of encouragement too - both players were always looking for the ball and confident enough to try their luck from distance on occasions, as Suso had done shortly before Driver's goal, which had forced Killie 'keeper Mark Brown to push away.
Gary Glen squandered a great chance to put Hearts in a commanding position just before half-time, but despite wriggling clear of his mark to get on the end of a cross from the Hearts left, the little striker failed to direct his header on target from around eight yards. A bad miss by a player with a reputation for being a sharp finisher.
Killie should have equalised just before the break when a dangerously floated cross to the back post had the Hearts defence in disarray, and when David Fernandez got on the end of it he really should have kept his header low enough to keep it on target. Thankfully for Hearts he didn't though, and the ball sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Half time 1-0
The second half started at a cracking place that never really relented for the remainder of the match........and the chances started to come thick and fast.
Killie were first to seriously threaten, when Bryson was sent clear down the left and his fierce shot from the corner of the penalty area was touched onto the post by the returning Marian Kello.
Hearts then enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure that they were somehow unable to turn into more goals. Suso, who was involved in almost everything that Hearts did in an attacking sense, went on a fine run and pulled his right-foot shot inches wide of Brown's right hand post after sending two defenders the wrong way with a clever feint, and then a few minutes later Michael Stewart fired just over the bar after getting on the end of the Spaniard's cutback. Then Brown made a great save from Suso's header at the back post after he was picked out beautifully by young Craig Thomson. Gary Glen also came close to scoring when he got in front of his marker to knock Driver's left wing cross goalward, but he just failed to make a proper connection. Stewart then had another good chance shortly afterwards when the ball broke out to him whilst on the run, but it seemed to arrive too quickly for him to adjust his body for the shot, and in the end the ball cleared the bar by some distance!
Killie brought on the imposing figure of Kevin Kyle for the last 20 minutes, and his strength and power in the air proved to be handful for the home side. From a free-kick just inside the Hearts half, the big striker thought he'd equalised for Killie with a header that was bulleted right at Kello's top left hand corner, but the 'keeper got up to make a tremendous diving save, and even managed to hold onto the ball, too. The goalkeeper fell very awkwardly after making the save though, and had to receive treatment for a few minutes before carrying on - looked as though he landed on his head, so we're thankful that he wasn't seriously hurt.
The last 5-10 minutes raged from end to end. Suso had yet more involvement - firstly a weaving run that ended up taking him almost to the goalline and then back out to the 18 yard line again (waiting for support that never arrived!), and then a shot from the edge of the area from Thomson's cutback that went just wide. Killie responded by putting Kyle clear down the left, and his left foot shot hit the side netting. Then came the most gilt-edged chance of all for the visitors to leave with at least a point - from a right-wing cross the ball broke kindly to both Kyle and Invincible on the six-yard line, but they seemed to get in each other's way and in the end the Aussie substitute lashed the ball wildly over the bar.
All in all this was a good night for Hearts as they finally recorded their first victory of the season, but my goodness they made it hard for themselves at times. Once again the glaring requirement for a quality frontman was clear for all to see, but the great thing is that they are a team creating chances - and lots of them too. While they are continuing to do that, I don't think too many of us can really complain, as the time to worry really is when the creativity isn't there either. Let's hope Hearts can take some of this form with them to Parkhead at the weekend, and keep their fingers crossed that everyone's favourite referee decides to behave himself for a change........!